It’s been quite a long time since Baichung played regular football in the English league system. Since then Sunil Chettri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Romeo Fernandes, Subrata Paul have had stints abroad, but to no major avail.
Indian Footballers have found it hard to break into the foreign leagues. We have to agree that the competition level in Europe or any developed nation is high. The demanding leagues prefer a player who can deliver results week and week out which makes it hard for any player to join the Senior team without having quality in him.
Since the onset of the ISL, many young players have been going on training stints to various European giants through the ISL franchises or the Reliance Youth Foundation. But to be honest, these month-long exposure trips will do no good to the young prodigies, and are equivalent to nothing more than holiday trips. And the solution to this is, moving abroad at a very young age.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Romeo Fernandes were already around 23 years when they moved abroad, and that is too late as per the standards of developed footballing nations. And when I mean ‘ABROAD’, it doesn’t refer to Europe. Dreaming of Europe at this moment is practically infeasible by our standards.
Indian youth should focus on enrolling themselves in Reserve or Youth Academy of the developing nations. Realistically it is the only way we can have a pool of players playing in top-class facilities. Indian football facilities are developing but we should agree that it will take few more decades to reach the highest level. Having a number of talented Indians in the youth system of the foreign academy will not open doors for these players in good clubs but also will provide the national team with a player who can produce results for the national team.
There are so many developing nations that are making giant strides in improving their quality like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to name a few. These are the kind of leagues where Indian players can think of regular playing time and simultaneously earning a handsome amount, unlike the European leagues.
European leagues boast of excellent training and facilities; yes. But in terms of playing time, the players will be restricted to the bench and reserves, as was the case with Sandhu and Romeo Fernandes. The only reason we think is that age at which Indian players move abroad. Majority of the European clubs sign players directly to their first team or youth system. Now a player signed the youth system is more or less below the age of 20. The likes of Sunil Chettri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Romeo were in their mid 20’s when they moved abroad. The chances of a player getting playing time at this age are bleak unless the player posses world-class quality.
Of course, the Asian leagues are not easy to make a breakthrough because of the 4 foreigner rule, but will surely provide more playing time than the European leagues. But for this to happen, coming out of the comfort zone is a must. If India needs to have a decent national team in next 5 years, we should have at least 50 players plying their trade in top 10 European nation league. The task is difficult but nothing is impossible in the football.