How Pakistan's failed foreign policy is a stern warning to Stephen Constantine's plans of fielding Indian origin players
Every now and then, a raging debate takes Indian football by storm – should foreign players of Indian origin be allowed to represent the nation?
India’s head coach Stephen Constantine has always wanted to field foreigners with Indian roots but every time, his plans have taken a hit due to the nation’s prevailing laws in connection with the whole procedure.
According to the current system, a person of Indian origin (PIO), who is a foreign national, must forego the citizenship of any other country in order to represent India on the sporting field.
Players like Michael Chopra and Danny Batth have in the past shown interest in playing for the nation but one question always lingers – is this the way forward?
Learning from Pakistan's example
If we take a look at India’s neighbouring country Pakistan, they also have tried out the same tactics but haven’t had much success on the field.
In the year 2005, the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) made an effort to reach out to the Pakistani diaspora in Europe to find professional and semi-professional players who have had their base in Pakistan in the past and were eager to play for the country.
Zesh Rehman, who was a Fulham player back then, moved to Pakistan in 2005. Ex-Manchester United academy trainee Adnan Ahmed, who turned pro at lower league Huddersfield, also joined the team.
The PFF even held an open trial in Rotherham in mid-2007 to find potential players of Pakistani origin to play at various AFC youth tournaments.
The move was a well thought one but there were no long-term plans in place which could derive desirable results with the help of these foreign players who represented Pakistan.
They didn’t play enough friendlies and as a result, their FIFA ranking kept plunging downwards. Also, neither in the continental nor the World Cup qualifiers were Pakistan able to leave a mark.
Having players abroad no sign of success
Incidentally, almost half of the players in the current Pakistan team ply their trade in different foreign leagues. Apart from Zesh and Adnan, the most prominent figure in Pakistan football is their captain Kalle Mullah Khan. He plays for Tulsa Roughnecks in the United Soccer League while defender Nabel Aslam plays for Glostrup FK in the second division in Denmark.
In India, it is believed that playing abroad is the key to success. This might be true but we have to also consider the fact that proper infrastructure and planning need to be in place to derive success. Otherwise, Pakistan won’t be ranked 201 even after having so many players in foreign leagues.
Coming back to the topic of fielding players of Indian origin, the Indian football management has to take a sensible step. These foreigners can only be a stop-gap solution which might make the national team stronger for a while. But the fact remains that unless the grassroots of Indian football aren’t looked after in a proper way, talents won’t be nurtured and the supply line to the national team will be affected.
Spain can take a Diego Costa, who has also played for Brazil, in their ranks and still succeed because in their case he is not a temporary solution. Additionally, neither has he opted for Spain after realising that he won’t be able to be a permanent member in the Brazil squad.
However, in India’s case, the NRI and PIOs who feel that they won’t be able to earn caps for the respective countries where they are currently based, show their interest towards playing for India.
These players are mostly on the wrong side of thirty and even if they are taken in the national team, they won’t be able to sustain for a long time. Thus, proper planning and grooming of the youngsters is the way forward for Indian football.