In the realm of Indian football, the debate surrounding the inclusion of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and Person of Indian Origin (PIO) footballers in the national team roster has long been a topic of discussion. With the potential to bolster the talent pool and elevate the standard of play, the prospect of allowing foreign-born players with Indian heritage to represent the nation has garnered both intrigue and controversy. Today, we will name the Top 10 Indian-origin footballers who could represent India if the OCI and POI players were permitted.
Before we get into the names of players who could or could have faced the Indian football team, let's dive into the details and rules for the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and Person of Indian Origin (PIO) in Indian Football.
OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) is a permanent residency that allows people of Indian origin and their spouses to live and work in India without any restrictions. This residency provides lifetime entry to the country and allows cardholders to own land and invest in India.
As per the rule of the All India Football Federation, Overseas Citizen of India and Person of Indian Origin players can not don the Indian Blue jersey. The player cannot play for India unless and until they leave their current passports and adopt Indian citizenship. Moreover, as per the law, they will have to stay in India for at least 12 months to apply for an Indian passport.
The OCI & PIO players do not want to give up their current nationality just because of the strict rules for work permits of players from countries whose FIFA ranking is higher than 70. Leagues like Premier League and others do not provide work permit visas to footballers from countries whose are ranked higher than 70.
AIFF did try to sign Michael Chopra in the early 2000s, a striker from England who featured for clubs like Newcastle United, Nottingham Forest, Sunderland and Cardiff City. However, that was not fruitful for AIFF back in the day.
Currently, as per AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey, they are trying to approach 24 foreign footballers who are eligible to feature for India. Although Chaubey has not revealed any names yet.
Arata Izumi, the Japanese-born mid-fielder gave up his Japanese nationality to play for India in 2012. He played 9 games for India and also was a part of the team which became SAFF Runners-up.
Here are the 10 Indian-Origin footballers who could or could have represented India if Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) and Person of Indian Origin (PIO) players were allowed to feature for the men in blue.
Dilan, 22 is a winger who plays for the Aberdeen Football Club in the Scottish Premiership. Dilan came from Tottenham Hotspur's youth ranks and was the first-ever British Asian – as well as the first player of Indian descent – to play for the Spurs in a competitive match in 2021. Markanday was born to Deepa and Arun Markanday at Barnet in London, England
Yan Dhanda is a 25-year-old winger playing for Ross County at the moment in the Scottish Premiership. He was born in Birmingham. Dhanda's mother is from England while his father was born to Indian parents in England.
Yan came through the ranks of West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool Youth teams and then made his senior team debut for Swansea City where he faced a lot of racism. He featured for England U16 and U17. Yan wanted to play for India at the senior level but then opted out as playing for India would mean an end to his Premier League career as well.
Sarpreet Singh is an attacking mid-fielder born in New Zealand to Indian parents and plays for Hansa Rostock in the second-division league in Germany. He did feature for Bayern Munich in 2019 for 2 games before signing Hansa Rostock after three loan tenures. He was the first Indian-origin footballer to play in the Bundesliga. He has already featured for the New Zealand senior team nine times.
The 21-year-old California-born forward made his name when he became the first ever player of Indian descent to join Real Madrid's youth program in 2013 and then went on to join Ajax Youth Team in 2015. He is currently playing for Jong AZ in the Netherlands and had a trial with Chelsea as well back in 2021.
Joshua was born to an Indian father and European European-American mother in 2002.
Harpreet Ghotra is a 21-year-old midfielder from Germany who was born to Indian parents and currently playing for Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga. He has been with the Eintracht youth teams since 2015 and now has a contract with the German team till June 2024 with an option to extend the contract.
Shaan holds the dual nationality of both India and Canada as he was born to Indian parents in Canada. The 24-year-old striker is currently playing for the Valour FC team in Canadian Premier League. He has also featured for the Canada U18 and U20 team.
Sachdev is another English young prodigy who can feature for India if AIFF approves the dual nationality system. He has already featured for England U16, U18 and U19 teams and is currently playing for Oldham Athletic, on a loan from Sheffield United. As a young kid, this right-back was part of the Leicester City Youth Academy as well.
A product of Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion academies, Arjan is a 21-year-old midfielder who plays for Leicester City in England. Arjan made his debut for Aston Villa on 8 January 2021 in an FA Cup third-round tie against Liverpool after making a name for the youth side of the club. However, he was loaned to the National League sides twice before joining Leicester City in 2023.
Arjan was born to a British-Punjabi Sikh family in Wolverhampton.
The first South Asian to sign a professional deal with Birmingham City back in 2022, Bradon Khela was touted to be the one with huge potential by the club. The 19-year-old midfielder is currently on loan to Scottish Premiership club Ross County and also featured for the England U17 team in 2022. Khela's signing with Birmingham City is recognised as a historic moment in British football.
Honestly, we do not know that. It can be a yes or a no. The main reason for the confusion is the culture of Indian football. India do have youth development projects aligned for the future and also have a structure as well.
So, having naturalized or "imported" players can cause a long harm to the development of football since all the focus will be on them. For short-term goals, it can be of good use to promote Indian football and achieve some quick results but without homegrown footballers, Indian football can not go further.