Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac recently hinted at including PIO and OCI in the national set-up, as done by other countries. But, if we dissect the matter, minute details will surface that indicate it won’t be beneficial for Indian football in the long run.
Indian football is striving to set foot as powerhouses at the Asian level and globally, with the efforts paying dividends, but not at the desired scale. The recent loss to UAE in the International friendly just reminded that the gap between them and the premier teams in the continent is far from being bridged.
Even though head coach Igor Stimac had no excuses to offer, he did hint at including PIO (Person of Indian Origin) and OCI (Overseas Citizens of India) into the team to bolster the line-up, pointing out how teams like Afghanistan are gaining from adopting such policies. But, before drawing conclusions, the legitimacy of the comparison should be judged.
The exact quotes of Igor Stimac
"Let me remind you that Afghanistan has allowed overseas citizen players to play for the national team. They now have 13 players coming from European leagues. They are competing in Germany, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands, and Sweden. They also have two players playing in Australian clubs, and one player in the USA top division. Bangladesh has introduced a 3+1 policy, and their league is extremely competitive too."
First things first, India is way above Afghanistan in the FIFA rankings, and it was expected that the Blue Tigers would hand them a defeat in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, But they failed. Moving on, with due respect to each nation, the Indian coach should not dish out their players’ overseas connection as a post-mortem of the inability to overcome them.
Rather, scrutinising the policy of successful nations should be deemed as a more productive job. Even if we give the Croat the benefit of the doubt, there are a dozen reasons to believe why his claim is an overhyped one. How?
For instance, Afghanistan’s main architect during their match against India was Faysal Shayesteh, who plays for VV Duno, a fifth-tier club in the Netherlands, while their left-back plays for third-string German side SV Meppen. If playing European leagues is the main criteria, most of their footballers ply trade in the west, but that hasn’t really helped them in the International stage, has it?
Currently ranked 150th, the Afghans were better by three places back in 2018, while they have won only one game in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, against a low-ranked Bangladesh side. Their story has no silver lining, with India’s incapability to overcome a regulation hurdle the only inference from the fixture.
In order to progress in Asia, Indian football needs to replicate the deeds of nations that have excelled at the International level, for example – Iran, Iraq, Japan and Qatar. But we can do away with the elites for the time being and focus on the likes of teams that are above India in the continental region, but not international heavyweights. After all, India need to climb up the ladder gradually.
Let us take the example of Uzbekistan – ranked 85th as the per the latest listing, they have only two of their core players plying trade in European League, in the form of Eldor Shomurodov, who plays for Serie A outfits Genoa, and Shakhzod Ubaydullaev, who represents Soligorsk in the Belarusian Premier League.
While Shomudorov has been stellar with the national side, Shakhzod is yet to make a mark. But we cannot justify that the duo has been the only reason for their success in the recent past. In fact, Uzbekistan were a far better side a few years ago, when the above-mentioned players were not in the scene.
Even if we consider the cases of PIO, Japanese-born footballer of Indian descent, Izumi Arata, took Indian citizenship and played for the Indian national football team. But it was curtains drawn to his career after 12 matches at the top level.
Jamal Bhuyan, the captain of the Bangladesh national side was born in Denmark and played competitive football in Europe, following which he flocked back to his native land and earned accolades in the club level. But his experience did not inspire Bangladesh to reach new heights in football.
There hasn’t been a case where a player or few players with exposure from European football changed the landscape of their lower-ranked national team altogether. After all, football is a team game, where the results depend on each of the 11 players donning the jersey.
Even if India starts importing PIOs and ICOs, that won’t have a huge impact overall, for the majority of the players would be from the Indian Super League or the I-League. Considering the fact that Indian players still have miles to go before they break into European leagues, Igor Stimac and the management need to focus on developing the pool of talents at their disposal. There was never a second option to that and there will never be one.