The Indian men’s football team, having won three trophies (Tri-Nation Series, Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championship) in 2023, failed to live up to its expectations in the King’s Cup, last week.
But its impressive performance – despite the defeat against Iraq – in the first game would be enough encouragement for the Blue Tigers to look for an impressive Asian Games campaign ahead.
The team has seen the rise of youngsters in Apuia Ralte, Anwar Ali and Akash Mishra under head coach Igor Stimac, as the team entered the top 100 of the FIFA rankings after five years, in July 2023.
Moreover, the All India Football Federation (AIFF), is also looking for ways to allow players of Indian origin (PIO) to find a way to represent the tricolour, to make India an Asian powerhouse under Vision 2047.
Sportstar caught up with Arata Izumi, a former India international born in Japan, and one of the players of Indian origin to play for India – after earning Indian citizenship – in an exclusive interview, discussing the growth of football in the country.
You were previously the coach at the Reliance Foundation Youth Champs, after a successful professional career as a player. Now that you have been on both sides of the field, what do you think has changed, in terms of football infrastructure in the country?
Everything is upgraded, and this environment is demanding players to think more professionally. It is fantastic to see players are much more conscious about off-the-pitch efforts and showing great interest in gaining knowledge to improve(maintain) their performance level.
The AIFF is now looking for options to allow players of Indian origin to represent India. Recently, former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand talked about the possibility of having Yan Dhanda playing for India.
You were one of the trailblazers of players of Indian origin playing for the Blue Tigers, giving up your Japanese passport and taking the Indian one in 2012. What is your view on it?
If they are keen to play for India by obeying the law then why not? But adjusting the law for them to play for India isn’t my taste.
Do you think allowing players of Indian origin would improve the team’s performance or reduce chances for the youngsters within the country?
I can agree with both. Again, the question is do we need to rely on PIO(OCI)? It will take time and effort (normal for any development), India has enough resources to become one of the best football nations in Asia in my opinion.
Your expectations from the national team at the Asian Games and the AFC Asian Cup?
[I am] looking forward to seeing Blue Tigers Iconic “Spiritual performance” on the pitch. Tough opponents, tough fights, that’s what we need for our development. Asian games will give us great suggestions for our future success.
How do you see Igor Stimac as a national team coach?
[He is] motivated to do something great for India. [He is] demanding yet supported by players. This shows his character and charisma to me. He is a great football manager.
Some clubs are not ready to release players for the Asian Games. What do you think about that? Should players prioritise club over country?
Professionally no, Emotionally. Yes.
Can you elaborate a bit about how you moved to Inter Kashi as its assistant coach and what are your expectations from I-League this time?
Inter Kashi management and Head Coach Carlos Santamarina showed trust in my ability and support for my individual objectives. It is a great project, and I am 100% committed to the club’s success.
The club’s objective is my objective. Personally, I always focus on game by game. So, focusing on the first game of the season is the objective at this moment, and so the preparation is going on (accordingly).