After decades, Indian soccer still finds itself in the pit of neglect. Neither the country’s sports lovers nor media want to watch or cover it. For them what matters is cricket and the ‘gods’ in blue who represent Team India.
So the news of India losing to Asia’s smallest football nation Gunam 1-2 for the 2018 World Cup qualifier went unnoticed. However, for the country’s football association, the defeat came as a wake-up call. As a short-term goal, they are trying to rope in players of Indian origin.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has written to the sports ministry seeking an exception to the existing rule which states only Indian passport holders can represent the country.
“Two years ago, Guam had no team but their new coach went around the United States looking for players of Guam origin and found 10 who play in Major League Soccer,” AIFF vice president Subrata Dutta told Reuters
Those players are much better than those who played for the Guam national team. They have come up from a system and play in a competitive league. The coach requested them and convinced them to play for their country and Guam is a much better team now, Dutta said.
Tiny Guam, the US territory in the North Pacific Ocean with a population of little more than 170,000, are coached by Englishman Gary White and have won both their matches in the pool against India and Turkmenistan. India lost both their matches.
Dutta said India’s national team standards had declined and needed emergency treatment to achieve short-term goals.
“For the long-term we have a grass-root and youth football development plan, aided by FIFA,” the administrator added.
“But we also need our national team to do well or everybody will lose interest and football will lose attention.
“Our youth teams will also need time to be groomed for the next level but we can’t let our national team keep losing.
“But reinforcing the team with home-grown players is not giving us the desired result,” he said.
Local media has reported that India’s English coach Stephen Constantine has already identified several footballers of Indian origin and the AIFF will approach them if they receive approval from the government.
While the list includes former Newcastle United striker Michael Chopra, 24-year-olds Luciano Narsingh of Netherlands and Harmeet Singh of Norway are also on the radar.
The 31-year-old Chopra, who represented England in age-level tournaments, was approached by the AIFF in the past but things did not progress.
He has repeatedly voiced his desire to play for India.
“I plan to move to India and give up my British citizenship and get an Indian passport to play for the national team and take them forward,” Chopra had told Reuters last September.
India stands at 171 in the latest FIFA ranking.