The Indian Super League brought with it the opportunity of soccer as a profession for many talented Indian football players. Even though there have been many clubs playing different leagues within the nation, the international presence of Indian players is still gathering momentum. But there have been some Indian players who, with their talent and charm, actually went on to play international football. Here are five footballers who were born and bred in India and went on to play in football clubs across the Western world.
Born in Calcutta in 1904, Mohammed Salim was an active footballer during the 1920s and 1930s. He played during the British Raj, and was taken up by a nationalistic essence to disprove the British-imposed notion of Indian inferiority. To show that India was on a par and even better, he used football as his medium. He played in the Mohammedan Sporting Club. The team was known for playing bare feet. Salim used to play with bandages rolled on his feet and was recognised as the fastest player of the leagues of the day. He was then noticed by Pankaj Gupta, Bengal’s sports administrator. This catapulted him to seasons in big teams like East Bengal Club and Aryans Club. He became a legend when in 1936 he was taken to Glasgow and was asked to give a trial before the coaches and the team players of Celtic F.C. Even with bare feet he left people astonished. He played two friendly matches for the team: one against Hamilton Accies and another against Glaston. The team won both matches and Salim even scored a goal in the first. But he decided to quit due to homesickness. Despite all the entreaties to stay, he left the club and asked for the money he was being offered to be donated to orphans.
Bhaichung Bhutia is perhaps one of those Indian football players who is known even to those who don’t know much about football. He was given the Padma Shri; and thrice, the Indian Player of the Year Award. Bhutia, too, has international experience rolled up his sleeves. Bhutia’s international move took place in October 1999 when he signed a two-year contract with the England’s Bury Football Club. During his tenure, he played 37 matches, in the course of which he scored three goals for the team. One of the record-making moments was when he became the first player from India to play a match against Manchester United. After this experience Bhutia also played in the Malaysian Clubs Perak F.C. and Selangor M.K. Land F.C.
A rare and remarkably talented player, Sunil Chettri has played for the Indian national team and even captained it from 2011 to 2016. He is the all-time top scorer for the Indian national team with 51 goals in 91 matches. He became the first Indian football player to play in Major League Soccer, the primary football league in the United States and Canada, when he joined the Kansas City Wizards. Thanks to the pre-season game he played against Manchester United, he became the second Indian player to have faced the Reds after Bhaichung Bhutia. Later he went on to join Portugal’s Sporting C.P.’s B-team. During his time there he played a few matches and was unable to score goals. He didn’t receive much play time, and this became the reason for his leaving the club. He went on to play in the Indian Super League for Mumbai City F.C. and became the highest paid Indian football player ever.
Among the finest goalkeepers to have been produced in India, Subrata Paul was born in 1986. He was the first goalkeeper from India to have made it to the Danish Superliga, when he was signed by F.C. Vestsjaelland. He was the fourth football player from India to have been signed by an international league. Sadly, even though he was signed on the team, he didn’t make an appearance on the field and was kept in the reserve squad. From here, Paul went on to play in the ISL for Mumbai City F.C.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Born in Punjab in 1992, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu debuted as a professional football player with East Bengal. It was in 2014 that he was signed as the second goalkeeper by the Norwegian club Stabaek Football. Upon joining the club, he debuted in the Nowegian 2016 Football Cup. On 30 June 2016, Sandhu became the first Indian football player to play in the UEFA Europa League where he started in an away match against a Welsh football team in Wales. To top it all, he is the current captain of the Indian national team.