The former Blue Tigers skipper opened up on future of Indian football, foreigners quota and more.

In an Instagram live session on the Indian Super League’s handle, Indian football legend Bhaichung Bhutia interacted with fans and shared his thoughts on what the future holds for Indian football.

“In terms of scoring, Sahal (Abdul Samad) can come and fit in. He’s playing more as link-up – an attacking midfielder. He just needs to start getting confidence of scoring, taking shots.” Sahal made his international debut for the Blue Tigers in the 2019 Kings Cup and has impressed quite a few, including drawing praise from the captain for his exemplary skills.

He burst into the scene with his brilliant performances in the 2016-17 Santosh Trophy which earned him his first professional contract with Kerala Blasters. In his first full season with the club, he was adjudged as the ISL Emerging Player and also the AIFF Emerging Player of the Year in 2018-19.

Having played plenty of games in the recently concluded ISL season, Bhutia believes that Sahal carries a lot of promise and is expected to, one day, take the reigns from Sunil Chhetri. “Once he starts scoring, he can be a great finisher. He can take that position (of Sunil Chhetri). He is one future star for India.”

Speaking of the players that would lead the team once Chhetri decides to step down, the Sikkimese Sniper put forward two big names. “There are two players who could lead the team. One is Sandesh and the other is Gurpreet, once Sunil thinks of retiring.”

Bhaichung Bhutia had an interesting take on implementing the ‘four foreigners rule.’ He said, “With three foreigners and one Asian quota, I-League is doing it right. It’s about giving more opportunity to Indian players in the I-League so that they get noticed from big clubs from ISL. It can be a great platform.”

“For ISL, it’s important that the quality remains. Maybe the quality will go down and people might not watch it. The balance has to be there. Indian players are talented, willing to work hard and opportunities will come in,” he added.

Bhaichung Bhutia became the first Indian footballer to sign a contract with a European club when he joined English club Bury in 1999. He also had a short spell with Malaysian football club Perak FA. The legendary forward had a few wise words for youngsters in the country looking for opportunities outside. He said, “Don’t always think of going to European leagues. You can also target playing in Qatar League, Korean League, Chinese League or Japanese League, even UAE has good club standards. You get confidence, learn a lot.”

“To play abroad, your national team has to be recognised. Why don’t we have Brazilian cricketers in the IPL? Because they do not play cricket. They also think the same way for India (in football).

“So we need to improve our performance. If we play at least quarterfinals or semifinals in the Asian Cup, then number of players will also start moving out.”

The Indian football legend compared the physique of Indian players to that of South Americans and suggested the country focus on developing the players right from a young age. “The focus should be on technical aspects. Our build is more or less like South-American players. If we can try and build up coaches at grassroots, we should have a very very strong base,” he concluded.

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