A dearth of opportunities still remains for Indians at the highest level.
Fans in the subcontinent have long been in love with European football. They have yearned for footballers of Indian nationality to don a European club shirt at the highest level in Europe. Sandesh Jhingan was the latest Indian player to pen a deal at such a level. Before him, icons like Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri had paved the way for such an achievement. Another noteworthy name is Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who holds the record of being the first Indian player to play in the UEFA Europa League.
There are always two sides to a coin. While this handful of names went all the way, there are countless others who couldn’t quite make the jump. Khel Now brings you a list of five Indian footballers who were in touching distance of the ultimate dream of playing in Europe.
5. Mehtab Hossain
The veteran midfielder has gone through his fair share of European trials, which unfortunately did not bear any fruit. The first of these opportunities came to him back in 2012. Hossain travelled to Scotland for a trial at Airdrie FC. While the experience was quite enriching for him, he couldn’t extend his stay abroad due to work-permit issues; a problem no stranger to many Indians chasing the dream.
4. Ashique Kuruniyan
The crafty winger currently plays for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League. While he wows India’s top division, things could have been very different early on in his career. At a young age of 19, Kuruniyan had received a chance to ply his trade for La Liga side Villarreal’s C team.
He moved to Villarreal C on a loan deal from the erstwhile Pune City FC, but his stay was short-lived. A hamstring injury cut short his time in Spain as Ashique returned to India after just four months. One may say that this was just an educational trip for the youngster, rather than a professional deal. Nonetheless, he has come a long way from working at a sugarcane factory to being one of India’s most promising talents.
3. Jeje Lalpekhlua
Another of the Indian footballers, who had an unsuccessful trial in Europe in striker Jeje Lalpekhlua. But unfair chances, visa problems and weather perfectly sum up Jeje’s sojourn at Scottish side Rangers. It was 2011 when the winger was presented with an opportunity to go for a trial in Scotland. He was joined by forward Sunil Chhetri, but the timing couldn’t have been worse.
He was completely new to the weather conditions in Glasgow and enough time wasn’t provided to Jeje. Due to visa issues, he couldn’t even feature in a friendly match. A busy schedule for the Scottish club’s manager meant that the Indian didn’t have anyone to impress. Despite the short stint, he made sure to make a name for himself in the Indian football circuits.
2. Lallianzuala Chhangte
The Mizoram-born winger received an opportunity in 2019 when he travelled to Norway in search of a European dream. Albeit a two-day stint with Viking FK, the then 21-year-old could get a couple of training sessions under his belt. On arrival, the player realized that the Norwegians took their weekends off. Hence his proposed trial period was cut short.
In spite of the brevity of the trip, Chhangte was grateful for his experience with Viking FK. The forward currently plays for Chennaiyin FC in the ISL.
1. Brandon Fernandes
The India international is no stranger to trials in Europe. At a very young age, the Goan midfielder received a chance to get some valuable training in ASD’s youth academy, a club based out of South Africa.
Following that, Fernandes bagged trials at some well-known English clubs like Reading, Sunderland, and Leicester City. Unfortunately, the talented midfielder was unable to seal a deal with any one of the clubs.
Now 27, he plays for ISL team FC Goa and has tasted success with them as well. Brandon has made his thoughts public as well after he was heard saying he wouldn’t mind moving to Europe, provided the right opportunity arrived.