Africans bring raw power and excitement to Indian footballApril 12th, 2009 - 3:58 pm ICT by IANS
By Abhishek Roy
New Delhi, April 12 (IANS) African footballers with their raw power and silken touch have invaded India like never before. They have given a new thrust to the game in the country at a time when Indian football is striving to catch up with the world’s best.
Around 400 Africans are playing in various clubs in India and have swarmed the football fields in the last two decades. Many of these players come from Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Liberia and Congo and play key roles in Indian teams. Known for their lethal strikes, Africans have been the top scorers in football leagues in India.
Most important, they add a dash of colour and excitement to the domestic season that pulls the crowd to the stadiums.
It’s is not only the famous Kolkata Maidan but clubs in Goa, Delhi and Kerala also have African flavour. Pick any of the 12 I-league teams and you cannot miss the African presence. The top clubs shell out around Rs.25 lakhs (Rs.2.5 million) per season on an average for a player.
The first African name to strike a chord is David Williams who represented Tamil Nadu in Santosh Trophy in the 1970s before East Bengal picked him up.
Nigerians Emeka Ezugo and Cheema Okerie used to be the star attraction in Kolkata teams during the 1980s. The two not only left the Indian fans in a thrall with skill and punch in their boots but also opened a window for other Africans, who came as students and found a way to play in India and earn good money.
Former India captain and Olympian P.K. Banerjee feels Emeka and Cheema have made a great impact on Indian football.
“Of all the overseas footballers, Cheema and Emeka were a class apart and no wonder they played World Cup. It is not easy to get such quality players all too frequently,” Banerjee told IANS.
Emeka will always be remembered as the first World Cupper to play in India. He was adjudged the best player in the 1990 Nehru Club Cup, scoring eight goals to take Kolkata’s Mohammedan Sporting into the semi-finals.
Like the Nigerians, Ghanaians Yusif Yakubu and Suley Musah have brought a high level of professionalism to the Indian teams.
Englishman David Booth, now in charge of Mumbai FC, had the experience of coaching in Ghana and he says that Africans do not hesitate to venture out into the wide world of football for better prospects.
“African players will go and play in any country. In India, they are the key players in the clubs they play for as they are the most dependable,” said Booth, who has coached Mahindra United in the past.
In the last two years, Africans have emerged top goal scorers in the I-League. Churchill Brothers striker Odafe was the best player of the inaugural I-League in 2007-08 and he has been in tremendous form in the ongoing second edition.
“India made me famous. Had I stayed back in Nigeria, I wouldn’t have achieved all this name and fame. India is special as they have good players and playing with them has been a great experience,” says Odafe.
JCT coach Sukhwinder Singh feels players like Odafe are crowd pullers and good advertisement for the game.
African footballers not only have blossomed in Indian domestic league but have also been crucial to the success of Indian clubs overseas.
Ghanaian Musah led East Bengal to become the first Indian club to win an international tournament, ASEAN Cup in 2003. Burly Nigerian Mike Okoro played a crucial role by scoring a goal in the final for the Kolkata team.
Last year Congolese striker Mboyo Iyomi played a key role in I-League champions Dempo’s success to become the first Indian club to qualify for the AFC Cup semis.
“Being a foreigner, it is easier to get noticed in India. Money is not the only factor,” Iyomi told IANS.
Mumbai FC recently recruited two Ghanaians - Michael Osei and James Dissimariah. Both had played with Chelsea star Michael Essien in Ghana.
“We were inspired by Essien’s success overseas. We also wanted to come out of our country and prosper. India gives us good money and the experience to become a tough professional,” says Dissimariah.
(Abhishek Roy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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