India’s recent embarrassing defeat to Afghanistan has reignited a debate: should authorities allow players of Indian origin outside of the country to represent the national team?
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) is being urged to follow the example of their neighbours who select footballers from their respective diasporas outside of South Asia.
Afghanistan, who defeated India in the final of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in Nepal, had several German based players in their team. Pakistan’s first XI regularly contains footballers from the UK and Denmark, whilst Bangladesh’s Dutch coach Lodewijk de Kruif was in London earlier this year to look at options within the British Bangladeshi community.
In 2010 the current Blackpool striker Michael Chopra travelled to India’s training camp in the Gulf, to be told he could only be considered if he gave up his British citizenship. Only those who have an Indian passport can be considered for the country.
Mixing the team with players who have played in the Premiership or Championship can only be of benefit and give Indian football a higher profile in Europe
Arunava Chaudhuri, is the German based founder of IndianFootball.Com turned blogger and television pundit. Having worked on a number of roles and projects within Indian football he believes, one option open to the authorities, is to consider giving holders of a Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) card the same opportunity as those with Indian nationality.
On the High Commission of India (London) website the PIO scheme is “aimed at making the journey back to the roots, simpler, easier, flexible and trouble free.” With certain exceptions PIO settled around the world, up to fourth generation, would be eligible to qualify.
Mr Chaudhuri said: “The AIFF has to look at the bigger picture. The international team is not making the progress it should and even more worryingly on a regional level others are catching up. Mixing the team with players who have played in the Premiership or Championship can only be of benefit and give Indian football a higher profile in Europe.”
“You want to avoid a situation whereby overnight you have 11 PIO players in the team but they should be selective and pick the best two or three who can really help the national side progress and move forward.
“The AIFF has missed out on high quality players in the past and they cannot continue to miss out going forward.”
Aside from Chopra other players of Indian descent playing in England include Wolverhampton Wanderers Danny Batth and Swansea’s Neil Taylor. However the latter has been capped at full international level with Wales and therefore unable to represent the land of his mother’s birth. There are fears that the stringent qualification criteria and an apparent lack of enthusiasm by the AIFF could see another quality European player of Indian origin slip through their grasp.
Feyenoord’s defensive midfielder Harmeet Singh was born in Norway and to date has played up to Under 21 level. Under FIFA regulations he could still feature for India as he has not played a competitive fixture for the Scandinavian country. Speaking in both Punjabi and English at the recent Asian Football Awards at Wembley, Singh revealed he would be “open” to an approach from the AIFF.
“In my opinion it would be good if the AIFF allowed the manager to choose players who are outside of India and have European experience. I would consider playing for India but as yet there has not been any contact made by the AIFF,” said Singh.
How to compete?
Sukhvinder Singh is the Managing Director of a leading football consultancy and player agency Libero Sports in New Delhi.
He points out to the case of Izumi Arata, whose parents are of Indian and Japanese heritage. After playing for Pune FC in the national league for a number of years he has given up his Japanese citizenship and has now been capped at international level.
Mr Singh said: “One possibility with the PIOs could be to invite them to play in the I-League as a foreign player and over time if they feel comfortable they could make a decision to give their allegiance to the national team.”
In FIFA’s international rankings India are at number 154 sandwiched between Nicaragua and Singapore. Manager Wim Koevermans, a Dutchman, has faced scathing criticism by the country’s media over the team’s failure to win the SAFF trophy in Kathmandu.
With a population of over a billion there are those who believe India should resist the temptation in luring those with Indian heritage abroad and instead look to develop home indigenous talent.
Others argue the AIFF cannot afford to overlook those who qualify for India through their parents or grandparents, when established nation’s such as England are pursuing a teenager who was born in Belgium to an Albanian father and Kosovan mother – Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj.
With an increasing number of football associations spreading their net ever wider to select players, the AIFF finds itself unable to make similar moves unless the Government changes current legislation.
The general secretary of the AIFF, Kushal Das, says “Unfortunately until the Government of India changes its rules, nothing can be done. India does not allow dual citizenship so the player of Indian origin needs to surrender his foreign passport and apply for an Indian passport. Unfortunately the AIFF is helpless.”