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Top 5 foreigners to play in Indian football

Odafa Okolie
Odafa Okolie had the ability to unlock any defence on his best day

Indian Football has always had its own fairytales, with some protagonists from within the country and some from beyond the borders. Football has always been known to break boundaries and it has done similarly in the pretext of Indian setup too.

The I-League currently allows 4 foreigners to play for a club, including an Asian. Thus, all the teams strengthen their sides with important additions in the various departments of the game. From Belo Rasaq to Sony Norde, no football fan can deny their importance to their squads.

Here, we bring you the finest foreigners to have ever played in the country. Read on and leave your comments:

#5 Odafa Okolie (2003, 2005 - Current)

The tale of a folklore began in 2003, when Mohammedan Sporting signed a fresh-faced 18-year-old teenager by the name of Odafa Onyeka Okolie. Such was the dire state of the Kolkata club at that time that Odafa had to play as a centre-back. Irritated at the response he received, Odafa went to Bangladesh to play for Muktijoddha. Odafa was always known to have amazing goal-scoring abilities, which were being wasted on the Kolkata Maidan.

In 2005, legendary Indian coach Mihir Bose suggested Odafa’s name to Goan club Churchill Brothers, who invited the player back to the country and Odafa began his story then. Turning into an unstoppable goal-scoring machine, Odafa Okolie has a strike-rate comparable to the German magician, Gerd Mueller. Odafa is probably the most complete striker ever to play in India. A burly striker with sublime skill-sets, Odafa is an automatic choice for any coach. Leading the line, Odafa seldom drops back for link-up plays or support to the defence.

You can’t complain much when a player does his job well, and Odafa does that to perfection—scoring truckload of goals. You create half-a-chance for him, and he’ll more often than not, convert it. Odafa has top scored in the I-league for four consecutive seasons, which says it all. The striker is the second highest scorer in both I-League and NFL combined, which speaks a lot about his scoring prowess.

A no-nonsense attitude, Odafa is a complete dominatrix in the box. Equally adept with both feet and the head, Odafa can bamboozle any defence in the box. These abilities made him the costliest footballer ever in Indian football when Mohun Bagan signed him for Rs. 3 crore. Currently, Odafa is playing for Sporting Clube De Goa.

Odafa has the record of the maximum number of hat-tricks in Indian football, which is just another proof to his goal-scoring. Odafa already has a lot to his name and is one of the finest foreigners ever to play in India.

#4 Yusif Yakubu (1999 – 2014)

Yusif Yakubu
Yusif Yakubu was arguably the most clinical finisher India has seen

If you ask Indian football fans about the best poacher they’ve seen in recent years, one unanimous name which arises is Yusif Yakubu. An unbeatable eye for goal, Yusif is a Ghanian footballer who rose to prominence playing for Churchill Brothers, where he scored 65 goals in 103 appearances. Top Scorer in the NFL in 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons, Yusif caught the eye of Mahindra United, who signed him in 2004.

At Mahindra United, Yakubu won the NFL in the 2005-06 season. Yakubu, in fact, is the all-time top scorer in the NFL, notching up over a 100 goals in just about 10 years. The nimble-footed striker is an introvert and a shy guy off the pitch. However, on the pitch, Yakubu is known to fire on all cylinders. A proven goal-scorer, Yakubu has scored wherever he has been.

The Ghanian striker, though, embodies professionalism. During his time at East Bengal and just before a Kolkata derby, Yakubu lost his mother. The brave-hearted footballer decided to stay back for the match. Yakubu did not just lead the team in attack but scored two superb goals to give East Bengal a 3-2 victory. Later, he dedicated both the goals to his late mother.

Yakubu is in his final years of his football career and is currently playing for Mumbai FC in the I-League. The striker is known for his runs behind the strikers and his sensible presence on the football pitch.

#3 Chima Okorie (1984-1993, 1997-1998)

Chima Okorie
Chima Okorie is probably the only foreigner to have a fond place in the hearts of both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal fans

Architecture and football seem to have no connection whatsoever, but Chima proved that inconsequential. In 1984, a 21-year old burly built Norwegian came to Vishakapatnam University to study architecture and was soon scouted by Mohammedan Sporting, who signed the striker for the 1985-86 season, and then the fairytale began.

His form saw him sign for East Bengal in 1987, making him one of the elite players to have played for the ‘Big Two’ of Indian football. Such was Okorie’s growth that he became the first foreigner to be signed by Mohun Bagan, in 1991. Chima top-scored in the Calcutta Football League seven times in 12 seasons that he played, a record which still stands untouched.

Not very skillful, Chima was powerful and intimidated defenders with his presence and stamina. He could bulldoze past defenders, was an able holder of the ball to link-up play and was more than a presence in the opposition box. Chima became the flag-bearer for the thousands of African players plying their trade in India.

Football viewers still remember the Chima Okorie at his best, terrorizing defenders all over the nation. In the 1988 Durand Cup semi-final, East Bengal were the underdogs. Chima came up with a magnificent display of attacking football, scored two goals and led the team to the finals single-handedly. After this performance, Chima made a special place in the hearts of the Red-and-Gold brigade.

After switching sides, Chima didn’t stop his exploits either. Mohun Bagan were playing the offensive diamond under the eccentric Amal Dutta, with Chima at the top of the diamond. In the 1997 Federation Cup, Mohun Bagan outclassed the Goan outfit 6-0. Tactically outplaying a Goan side was against the order of the day. Chima scored 4 goals in that memorable match, a commendable performance.

Chima had discipline issues throughout his career and his career ended with one such incident. In a KFL Derby match in 1999, an outraged Chima assaulted the referee, which saw an end to his maverick-yet-accomplished football career. Chima, later, had managerial stints in various parts of India.

#2 Jose Ramirez Barreto (1999 – 2004, 2006 – 2014)

Jose Ramirez Barreto
Barreto is nicknamed “the green parrot” for his time with Mohun Bagan

Barreto was the guardian angel from Latin America that invigorated the common Indian football fans’ imagination with his delightful play. The silky-footed, Brazilian was born to play football. One of the most versatile players to have graced an Indian pitch ever, Barreto joined the Mohun Bagan team in 1999. During his first five-year stint in Indian football, Barreto won everything that is there to be won in Indian football.

In the first four seasons with Mohun Bagan, he scored an amazing 126 goals but had to leave Kolkata amidst some administrative issues. Barreto came back to India in 2005, joining Mahindra United and had an immediate effect on his new team. Barreto became the top scorer of the Federation Cup in 2005, leading his side to victory. Combining with Yusif Yakubu (later), Barreto led his club to the only NFL title in the history of Mahindra United.

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Barreto came back to Mohun Bagan as the prodigal son a year later, and the return was wildly celebrated amongst the fans. Barreto holds the record of being the only non-Indian footballer to score more than 200 goals for a single Indian club. He has scored 16 goals in the fiery Kolkata derby, another record for a Mohun Bagan footballer.

The Brazilian is one of those players who are gifted with skill and finesse. Adept to playing anywhere in the attacking third, Barreto is capable of scoring with both feet. Barreto is one of those players who’ve been there and done et al. Retaining off the ball and the eye for the final pass makes him deadly in the opposition half. His commitment to his team is impeccable. Known to track back and defend in times of need, Barreto has always willingly played in midfield to give a chance to younger strikers.

Barreto was also a dead-ball specialist and regularly scored from direct free-kicks. In 2012, Barreto had slowed down a little and thus became a baggage too heavy for Bagan to carry with only 4 foreigners allowed in the team. His love for football and Kolkata made him sign for Bhawanipore Society, a team for which he played for two years.

One of the thorough professionals, Barreto is respected even by rivals’ fans for his modesty and dedication to the game. Barreto confesses his love for Kolkata time-and-again and is the Assistant coach in the Atletico de Kolkata team.

#1 Majid Baskar (Early 1980s)

Majid Baskar.jpg
Majid Baskar was the star of Indian football in the 1980s

Majid Baskar is one of the finest foreigners ever to ply his trade in India. Hailing from the Middle-East country of Iran, Baskar is still the yardstick when it comes to foreign footballers in Indian football. New players are always put to the question—‘Is he as good as Majid or not’ by both coaches and players.

Mainly playing as a ‘schemer’ or an attacking midfielder, Majid was known to be a player with sublime skills and unconventional thinking on the ball. His pace with the ball, skillful dribbling and trickery was something Indian audiences had never seen in the past. Sitting in the midfield and pulling the strings effectively and creatively, Majid was in the mould of a certain Juan Roman Riquelme. Even the hard-to-please Kolkata critics loved him, for a change.

Majid was part of the Iranian football team that played in the 1978 World Cup. He came to India to study in the Aligarh Muslim University and formed one of the deadliest partnerships with his friend from University, Jamshid Nasri. Majid played for a year for East Bengal and the next two years for Mohammedan Sporting and such was his impact that he’s known as the best foreigner ever to play in India.

Iran was going through a lot of turmoil in those days, and it took to Majid. After the Iranian Revolution, Majid got addicted to narcotics and could never replicate his ability on the football field. He tried in the other parts of India, remaining unsuccessful. He had a cult status due to his bohemian lifestyle and was loved by one and all.

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Edited by Staff Editor
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