While you were not looking…March 17, 2010
Yesterday might just have been one of the most important in the annals of Indian sport. And you might have completely missed it.
For all fans of Indian football, for all of us, this might just have been the big day. Sunil Chhetri, the Indian striker is set to join USA’s MLS club Kansas City Wizards, reported TOI **. Here’s an excerpt:
India international and Dempo’s striker Sunil Chhetri is set to join USA’s Major League Soccer (MLS) club Kansas City Wizards.
The Delhi lad attended trials at the club earlier this month and now Dempo sources have revealed that Chhetri will be joining the Wizards, who start their MLS campaign next month.
If you were reading this blog (and all my Indian Football based sloganeering), you would know that I have been saying for a while now that it is not ideal for an Indian player to start plying his trade at the English league, a la Baichung Bhutia at Bury FC. The Premiership is still far too good for any Indian player (hope that changes soon, however), and the lower English leagues are brutal, fearsome places… Watch a few Coca-Cola Championship matches and you will know that the emphasis is not on skill (where the Indian players might be able to match up) but on the twin virtues of strength and speed. The matches are frenetic, long-ball duels and the defenders relish kicking lumps off the opposing strikers. The Championship is faster than the Premiership, and while the lower leagues are slower, they are definitely even more brutal… and I doubt if anyone in Indian football has the speed and strength to last the English lower leagues. Baichung, the most talented of his generation, could not crack it. The Segunda Division of La Liga, and Spain itself, would be too large a cultural gap to bridge. Plus, do the Indian players match up, skill-wise? I had always been a proponent of the Dutch Eredivisie or the Japanese J-League as the best places for the Indian players to try their luck at. They are fairly large, fairly important, and the best of Indian talents could have coped (Baichung certainly could have, I wager). I completely missed mentioning the MLS. It’s exciting, new and like most things American, well-structured; from what I have read about it. There is a small, but passionate fan following, and the standards are high.
Also, if you have read a post that I had written about the class barriers in Indian football, and if you check Chhetri’s profile in wiki, you would see that he is a curious case of an apparently middle-class big-city kid who has happened to make it big in Indian football. There will be very little language barrier. English, and a level of cultural adaptability are major factors in a player settling down at a foreign location (definitely in the US), but Chhetri is fluent and should be able to settle well. In fact, lack of cultural adaptability was the major reason proffered by a football-crazy neighbor in Kolkata, when I suggested that Subrata Paul (who is in my opinion the best Indian player of the current generation) should try out in bigger leagues outside India.
This is the new dawn, folks. The times, they are a’changing…. Help them take shape. Friends, colleagues and facebook/twitter buddies in the United States, if you are in Kansas, or are staying close to the other MLS stadia, please do visit the Kansas City Wizards matches. The football is good, Kansas seems to be a fairly good team, and an Indian boy will be playing for them. Support Chhetri, and you will be supporting Indian football.
** While the news has come up on TOI, there has been no mention of the news on the official Kansas City Wizards website. I am fairly convinced that the news is true, though. (Edit: he is released by Dempo to play for KCW)