The former Indian skipper believes that Indian players must consider playing in Qatar, UAE and other top Asian leagues….

Former Indian team captain Bhaichung Bhutia spoke about the importance of Indian footballers testing themselves in top Asian Leagues.

The Sikkimese Sniper is among the few players from the country to have played in Europe. He spent three years at English side Bury FC where he made 37 appearances. An injury prevented him from staying at the club for a longer period.

It has been a while since an Indian played professional football at a European club, the last being Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who represented Norwegian club Stabaek between 2014-17.

Bhaichung believes that Indians must try to sign for top Asian clubs to gain some much-needed exposure. In fact, he believes that the players should consider opportunities at Asian clubs more than European teams.

“We need to be in the top 10 in Asia at least. We need to start performing in the Asia cup and go beyond quarters-finals. I want to tell Indian players planning to go abroad to not only think about joining European clubs but also target Qatar, UAE and other Asian countries where the league quality is high,” he explained in an Instagram LIVE session with the Indian Super League (ISL).

The striker also offered his two cents on giving PIO (Persons of Indian Origin) a chance to represent the country. In 2008, the Union Sports Ministry ruled that PIO and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders were ineligible to represent India unless they gave up their foreign citizenships.

Bhaichung believes that PIO representation could help Indian football in the short run and indirectly influence the ecosystem in the long run.

“I feel that at this moment, if they (PIO) want to play for India and they have Indian origins, they must play for India. Short term goals are necessary to get the results. When Bob Houghton was coach, Michael Chopra was in Dubai and he expressed interest. Bob tried to work it out but it did not happen,” he explained.

“This is important because you have good quality players of Indian origin who want to play for the country, then they must be given a chance. It’s important that the national team gets results as well. Every time you play well and lose, things get negative with the fans and the youngsters.

“I think once we start getting results, more kids will be interested and aspire to play football. Then we can focus on the grassroots in the long run.”

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