These players would have been phenomenal to watch in the current top flight.
Ever since the advent of the Indian Super League (ISL), football in the country has grown leaps and bounds. However, before the glitz and glamour, there was the I-League which had some extremely gifted players, some fierce rivalries and a nerve-wracking title race filled with unpredictability.
Therefore, we at Khel Now take a look down the memory lane and pick five foreign players from the I-League era who would have shone in the current top tier.
5. Yusif Yakubu
The African forward made it big in the I-League for a long time. The Ghanaian marksman was known for his exceptional goalscoring skills. He was a proper fox-in-the-box type of player, who would pounce on each and every opportunity to score goals.
Yakubu plied his trade for several clubs in India and was a fan-favourite wherever he went. His consistent performances in attack made him one of the deadliest strikers in the country in the I-League era. He featured for clubs like Churchill Brothers, Mahindra United, East Bengal, Salgaocar FC, Prayag United, Mumbai FC and Mohammedan Sporting. The ever-smiling assassin would have lit up the ISL for any of the outfits, but it is unfortunate that fans never got to see him in the current top tier.
4. Uga Okpara
Another I-League legend who represented East Bengal for many years and was claimed as one of the best-ever foreign defenders. Okpara was known for his daunting presence in the heart of the back four, as the Nigerian used to marshal his troops well. His physical attributes often overshadowed his exceptional game-reading skills, as he bailed out the Red and Gold several times.
Before coming to East Bengal, he plied his trade for Nigerian outfit Enyimba Aba and with them he featured in the CAF Champions League on multiple occasions. He also inspired the Red and Gold to the AFC Cup semi-finals in 2013. Apart from the I-League, he won everything with East Bengal, starting from the Calcutta Football League, Super Cup to Federation Cup and IFA Shield. However, it is a shame that we could not see one of the best foreign defenders featuring in the ISL.
3. Jose Ramirez Barreto
The Brazilian was associated with Indian football and India for so long that we can easily say that this is his second home. With all the samba flair and magic he brought to Indian shores, one regret that remains with Indian football fans is that they never got to see the “Green Parakeet” in action since the inception of the Indian Super League
Barreto was known for his versatility and nimble footwork. He could create chances for his comrades and also score goals taking on multiple opposition defenders. He was a very reliable player for both Mohun Bagan and Mahindra United. But, it is in Kolkata where he is worshipped by the fans for his achievements with the Green and Maroons.
Dempo SC’s dominance in Indian football prior to the ISL is undeniable and one of the vital cogs in that great team was Brazilian midfield maestro Beto. The attacking midfielder also plied his trade for clubs like Mohun Bagan and Churchill Brothers in his over-a-decade-long stay in India. He developed a great partnership with Ranti Martins and guided the Golden Eagles to the AFC Cup semi-finals in 2008 and also multiple league titles and cup wins during his time.
Beto was known for his defence-splitting passes and vision to connect with the strikers upfront. However, he would also take every opportunity to score goals himself. The Brazilian midfielder brought a different kind of swagger to Indian shores. Moreover, he himself admitted in Khel Now’s Beyond The Scores podcast that he had offers from some ISL clubs, but felt that his time was already up.
1. Odafa Okolie
Considered as one of the deadliest strikers in Indian football, Odafa Okolie was known for his killer instincts in the box. The Nigerian marksman had great strength and could often muscle his way past defenders. Odafa started his journey in India with Mohammedan Sporting and then came to the forefront when he joined Churchill Brothers. He guided the Red Machines to the I-League title in the 2007-08 season, where he ended as the league’s top scorer with 22 goals.
His ratio of scoring goals never stopped after he joined Mohun Bagan. Infact, he combined very well with Barreto and the duo shared some great moments on the field. He then moved back to Goa and joined Churchill again, before switching to Sporting Club de Goa. His last few seasons in India were plagued by incessant injuries, as he struggled to feature for Gokulam Kerala. Watching Odafa in full flow, taking on defenders and beating them at wil was a different experience altogether and it is a shame that he could never grace the ISL.