For most footballers in India, a transfer to an ISL club is considered to be the biggest highlight in their career. The hefty paycheck of playing in the premier division of a country's league pyramid comes with a lot of benefits.
However, in the past, there have been a lot of players who chose otherwise and the after-effect of their decision served the country well. Former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia is the best-suited example.
The Sikkimese plied his trade for Bury FC in League One for three years and became an invincible force on the national and international stages thereafter. India's current skipper Sunil Chhetri, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, and midfielder Brandon Fernandes are some other players who developed their game outside the country.
Among the women, Bala Devi is currently signed with Scottish champions Rangers FC. However, this article sheds light on the young and upcoming talents of the nation.
Without any further ado, here are 7 Indian footballers who are playing abroad.
#7 Sanjeev Stalin (CD Aves)
Indian football fans will always remember Sanjeev Stalin for his corner-kick that was headed home by Jeakson Singh, resulting in India's only goal at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
After spending two years with the Indian Arrows in the I-League, Stalin trained at CD Aves, who play in Portugal's Liga Pro, and are currently battling relegation.
The 19-year-old has signed a two-year contract with them, and will first turn up for their developmental side. If Stalin manages to impress the club officials, he will be able to make a smooth transition to their senior team, which regularly locks horns with top clubs in Portugal, like Benfica, Porto, and Sporting Clube de Portugal.
#6 Amarjeet Mishra (CD Estrela)
While Stalin made it to India's final FIFA U-17 World Cup squad and even registered an assist in the tournament, Amarjeet found his name missing in the final list.
Having graduated from Minerva Football Academy, he signed for Portuguese third division side Sociedade União 1º Dezembro in 2017. However, Amarjeet couldn't play a single match for them as FIFA's transfer regulations for minors didn't allow him to do so.
After he turned 18, he joined the junior team of Estrela and made the switch to their senior side a year later. They play in the Campeonato de Portugal, the third tier of Portuguese football.
#5 Ishan Pandita (Lorca FC)
Having spent his formative years in the Philippines, Ishan Pandita has established himself as a nomad in Spain's lower tiers. He impressed the Manchester United coaches in 2012 at an "Airtel Rising Star" event in Bengaluru and has never looked back.
Three years later, he joined the U-18 side of UD Almeria for eight months, who then played in Spain's second tier, but Ishan's time got cut short after he suffered an injury.
However, it didn't derail his willingness to try his luck in foreign pastures as he penned a deal with the reserve side of Gimnastic de Tarragona in 2019. The senior side played in LaLiga II, whereas CF Pobla de Mafumet, their B team, played in the fourth tier of Spain.
Having trained with them for around five months, he signed for another Tercera Division (Spain's fourth tier) club Lorca FC in the summer. In the 25 matches he has played for them, Ishan has scored six goals for his team.
#4 #3 #2 Kabir Kohli, Lunkim Seigoulun Khongsai, and Kabir Nath (CD Olimpic de Xativa)
Delhi-based Sudeva FC is known for organizing exposure tours to Spain and bringing coaches from their country to train children from all across India. Last year, they went a step further by helping three of their Academy players- Kabir Kohli, Lunkim Seigoulun Khongsai, and Kabir Nathsign- sign a one-year deal with Spanish fourth-tier side CD Olimpic de Xativa.
Khongsai, fondly known as Gogou, is a midfielder by trade and hails from Manipur. Kabir Nath is also a midfielder and travelled with India's FIFA U-17 World Cup-bound team in various exposure tours but couldn't make the final cut. Kabir Kohli, on the other hand, is a goalkeeper.
Olimpic de Xativa currently sit at the tenth spot in the Tercera Division Group 6 currently, with 39 points from 28 games. Although there is no record of any of the three players getting any playing time, the experience they gained will be valuable when they return to India.
#1 Uttam Rai (Friends FC)
Who will take over the mantle from Sunil Chhetri? This is a question that every Indian football fan must have asked himself at some point of time. It would be wrong to put all the blame on the AIFF as they invested heavily on Uttam Rai to be his successor when the day comes. Rai, however, never realized his potential once he stepped out of the junior circuit.
Born in the same town as Bhaichung Bhutia, Uttam too scored goals for fun in the Subroto Cup. Eventually, he represented India at the U-16 and U-19 levels, and even trained at the prestigious IMG Soccer Academy and with the Colorado Rush in the USA.
Despite getting a chance to play for a host of I-League clubs like Dempo, Churchill Brothers, Minerva Punjab, and Mohun Bagan, Rai flopped continuously. After a short stint with Southern Samity in Calcutta Football League, he shifted his base to Nepal.
In the winter transfer window, Rai signed for Friends FC, who play in the top tier of Nepal. He scored four goals in eight matches for them and prevented them from being relegated.