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Why PIOs and naturalisation of foreigners are a must for the Indian national team

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Photo credit: AIFF media

Philippines’ 8-0 thrashing of Cambodia in a Group E fixture of the 2014 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers on Sunday virtually ended India’s hopes of qualifying as one of the best second-placed teams, following their failure to qualify automatically.

Thus, India will miss out on the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia and that is a huge setback for Indian football that looked to be on the rise after the national team’s appearance in the 2011 edition. India have gone backwards in the last two years and what’s more worrying is the fact that they are currently even struggling to compete with the emerging nations of the continent.

Currently, the big difference between India and some of Asia’s emerging countries is the fact that our laws still prevent us from naturalising foreigners and the federation also hasn’t had the necessary support from the government to include PIOs (Players of Indian Origin) in the national team.

Naturalisation has been a growing phenomenon not only in Asia but in world football with even world champions Spain benefiting from the presence of Brazilian-born Marcos Senna during Euro 2008.

A recent amendment from FIFA requires a foreigner, who has no biological link to a country, to be a resident of that country for at least 5 years and that hasn’t stopped teams from being patient and naturalising the top foreigners of their domestic game.

English-born John Wilkinson played for Singapore at international level

English-born John Wilkinson played for Singapore at international level

In Asia, the likes of Singapore, Vietnam are well known for benefiting from naturalisation and at the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers Kyrgyzstan also did the same. Kyrgyzstan were the lowest ranked team in Group B but home advantage and the presence of Ghanaian-born attacker David Tetteh saw them qualify with three 1-0 wins. All three goals were scored by Teteh, who has been playing in Kyrgyzstan for the last five years, and Kyrgyzstan also had Cameroonian-born midfielder Maka Koum in their team.

Besides naturalisation, national teams also use foreigners who have some family connections with their countries. This benefits the weaker national sides especially and Afghanistan is a prime example. The war-torn nation has been one of the most improved teams in the sub-continent and much of their improvement has been down to the inclusion of several foreign-born players. Mohammad Mashriqi and Ahmad Arash Hatifie were both born in USA but have represented Afghanistan at international level and played important roles in their successful qualifying campaign.

The current Philippines squad is possibly the best example when it comes to national teams having foreign-born players as 20 of their 23-man squad for the qualifiers were born outside Philippines but are of Filipino origin.

Some may look at it as an unfair advantage but none of the countries have broken any rules and thus have every right to strengthen their national team with foreign firepower.

Imagine if they had played for India (Photo credit: AIFF media)

Imagine if they had played for India (Photo credit: AIFF media)

Just imagine how strong India’s team would have been if dual citizenship was permissible because the likes of Jose Barreto, Beto, Ranti Martins and Odafa Okolie could have all been naturalised. Also, maybe Feyenoord’s Indian-origin player Harmeet Singh could have been keen to represent India at international level because PIOs generally are not willing to give up the passports of the country of their birth to play for India.

The international debut of Japanese-born Arata Izumi is a positive sign for India but the Pune FC midfielder had to go through a long process to become an Indian citizen. Back in 2007, the AIFF became very serious about contacting several India-origin players from around the world on the advice of former national coach Bob Houghton but eventually they couldn’t take the plan forward due to political complications.

According to sources close to Sportskeeda, in July 2012 the AIFF showed similar interest in PIOs with technical director Rob Baan even reportedly having a meeting with PSV’s Luciano Narsingh. But Narsingh has already played in competitive matches for the Netherlands and the Indian federation hasn’t made any progress to go ahead with their plan of getting Indian-origin players to represent the country.

The Challenge Cup qualifiers will serve as another reminder to the Indian football fraternity that efforts have to be made to convince the government to make amendments and allow dual citizenship.

More PIOs like Arata needed

More PIOs like Arata needed (Photo credit: AIFF media)

The regional academies are the future of Indian football but by the time the first batch gets ready for the senior team, India might fall further behind in the continent because more and more Asian countries are now looking to benefit from naturalisation and their laws are much more lenient for natives living in other nations to get citizenship.

It’s high time we catch up with the rest of Asia.

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