The quality of foreigners in the I-League has improved considerably and the latest high-profile entry into Indian football is former Singapore international John Wilkinson, who is a well known figure in South-East Asian football. He will be playing for two-time champions Salgaocar in the I-League.
Wilkinson, now 33, was born in Exeter and played for six years at Exeter City, where, as a schoolboy, one of the players that he looked up to was current East Bengal coach Trevor James Morgan, who used to be a striker at Exeter City.
He moved to Singapore in 2002 and by 2007, had played for three clubs in the South-East Asian country. Wilkinson soon became a Singapore citizen and won 29 international caps for them between 2007 and 2010.
The midfielder will be registered in the January transfer window, which opens on January 15, and will have to play a key role if Salgaocar are to finish in the top half of the I-League.
Sportskeeda caught up with the former S-League star for an exclusive chat.
What brings you to Indian football and Salgaocar?
Well, I wasn’t getting the kind of contract I was looking for in Singapore and I was told about a couple of possibilities in India. Kenji Arai (former Sporting Clube player) who is my great friend and former team-mate told me great things about Indian football and I also know Ryuji Sueoka (current Dempo man). So I had an idea about Indian football and when I heard that Salgaocar needed someone to help them out in the I-League where they were not doing well, I saw it as an interesting challenge and now I am here. Obviously knowing the coach David Booth also helped and Luciano Sobrosa has been really helping me out to settle down here in Goa.
Would you agree that I-League is more financially rewarding now than the S-League in Singapore?
I would say yes, there are better financial opportunities here in India now. I came to India for an AFC Cup game a few years back, I think it was against Mahindra United and I liked the place. You know Singapore is an expensive place to live in and comparatively Goa is cheaper and the offer here was good. I think certainly more players from the S-League and even some other parts of South East Asia would be interested in coming to India. Already a couple of Singapore lads in the national team have been asking me about Indian football. Obviously I will be able to give them a better idea once I start playing.
We have been getting some quality foreigners this season, at the same time some of them like Rohan Ricketts and Sean Rooney have been released after a short spell. Will that be a concern for foreigners while choosing Indian clubs in the future?
Well, yes, that will be a concern certainly. The clubs will have to be more professional in how they treat foreigners. But at the same time, I think it’s important for the foreigners to embrace the culture and adapt to the conditions and environment of a particular country.
Do you think it is fair for the AFC Challenge Cup winners to qualify directly for the Asian Cup?
I was baffled actually when the rule started because there are lot of teams who miss out on the Asian Cup and don’t get a chance to compete in the AFC Challenge Cup. I think it would be better for teams like India to play against the best teams in the qualifiers rather than the AFC Challenge.
How about a tournament with teams from South-East and South Asia?
I think that sounds fair. A time will come when just playing each other in the AFF Suzuki Cup won’t be enough for South-East Asian teams and similarly I am sure India would benefit by regularly playing against ASEAN nations. But then again it would also be difficult to organise such a tournament.
You became a Singapore international after becoming a Singapore citizen. Do you think nationalising players is the right way out?
I don’t think there is anything wrong with it, especially if a foreigner has played for five years in a country. I think it is a real honour for any player to play at international level so I am glad I took that decision, which wasn’t easy because I had to give up my English passport. And you know what it does? It motivates the local players to perform even better because they know if they are not consistent then a foreigner might take their place in the national team.