Indian football is, not for the first time, on its way to showcasing its talent outside the sub-continent. Sunil Chhetri has officially been signed by Sporting Club de Portugal for their ‘B’ team. Cynics might groan and sigh, citing the fact that he will not play in the Champions League. But cynics will always be cynics, and realists need to ignore that chain of thought.
For a long time, Indian football fans have yearned to see their players get some international exposure. That, simply because it would give footballers like Chhetri an opportunity to develop under better infrastructure and pit him against a standard of football that his higher than the I-league. If Chhetri comes back as a better striker and shows a marked sense of improvement, then it would be one step forward in bridging the gap between the quality of Indian footballers and their international counterparts.
There is a bigger void that has been filled. One that signifies a small step for Chhetri but a big one for Indian footballers as a whole. For long, Indian footballers could only dream of playing the sport outside their country’s boundaries. The exodus of Indian players from foreign leagues had less to do with their quality and more to do with the lack of awareness. Sure, Indian footballers knew about Bayern Munich but did the latter have any knowledge of these Indians? Unfortunately the lack of a proper agent-player structure meant that there was no one to draw the link between an Indian footballer and the club that he wanted to try out at.
A link has now been drawn and a plethora of opportunities has now been thrown open. Football One, an agent body, has facilitated the signing of Chettri and has in turn ensured that Portugal has opened its arms to Indian talent. For long, the lack of a body representing the players in the foreign market meant that a dream remained a dream. Now, players can finally look up to Chettri and have hopes of converting their dream into reality.
Obviously it would be unfair to expect every player who is a part of the Indian football team to now start playing in leagues across the world. However, this one signing means that over a long period of time one might just see that happen. For now, fans can be happy with this one move and can surely be hopeful of someone like a Jeje Lalpekhlua landing something similar in the foreign market. Finally, Indian talent might get the exposure and recognition that they have long deserved. The lack of agents has been Indian football’s troubled waters until now, but Chhetri’s signing could well have found the bridge to walk right across that.
Oh and for all the cynics, Chhetri might not make the UCL this season, but a good performance from him now might just launch him into the A side next year. Even if that doesn’t happen, teams in the lower half of the Primeira Liga might surely chase after him.