Five best foreigners to grace Indian football

While some came to India at the end of their careers for one final shot at glory, or for their last pay day, others came and enthralled fans with skills aplenty.

Sportstar picks five of the finest foreigners to have played football in India.

Sportstar picks five of the finest foreigners to have played football in India.

Before the likes of Ferran Corominas, Miku and Iain Hume gave joy to fans across the length and breadth of the country and long before the Indian Super League was formed, several foreigners came to the country and left lasting impressions  –  both good and bad.

While some came to the country at the end of their careers for one final shot at glory, or for their last pay day, others came and enthralled fans with skills aplenty.

Here are five of the finest foreigners to have played in India, in no particular order.

 

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At East Bengal, Yakubu formed an impressive partnership with Bhaichung Bhutia.   -  Sushanta Patronobish

 

Yusif Yakubu

Yusif Yakubu was probably the first, and definitely the finest, poacher to arrive on the Indian shores. Ambidextrous and excellent in the air, it was his exceptional positioning that saw him rise to the top in Indian football.

The Ghanaian scored 65 goals in 103 games at Churchill Brothers, finishing as the National Football League’s top scorer twice.

In his one season at Mahindra United, he won the Fed Cup-NFL double before signing with East Bengal, where he formed an impressive partnership with Bhaichung Bhutia.

He took his goalscoring prowess to several clubs across the country – Salgaocar, United SC and Mumbai FC – and added a few more titles before calling it a day.

“In football, support matters a lot and even the cheers from the bench are very much needed, and in that way I am blessed,” he once said in an interview with Sportstar. “I have enjoyed my days in India and have found support from everyone associated with my club.”

With over 160 goals in the NFL and I-League, Yakubu fully deserves the love and respect of the Indian football faithful.

 

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Majid remains the standard to measure every foreign signing – a testament to the impression he made in this country.   -  Rajeev Bhatt

 

 

Majid Beshkar

To be regarded as the greatest to have graced the ‘Mecca of Indian football’ tells us everything about Majid Beshkar’s time in India.

Playing for Aligarh University in 1979, the Iranian – with compatriots Jamshid Nassiri and Mahmud Khabbasi – made a good impression in the North Zone Inter-University championship. Novy Kapadia, then the coach of Delhi University, helped the three of them secure their first contract in Indian football.

In his book Barefoot to Boots, Kapadia writes, “On reaching Delhi, I rushed to the Daryagunj house of East Bengal’s local manager and ardent fan, HS Mamik. He immediately contacted the club in Kolkata and soon he and the club officials went to Aligarh to sign the three players”.

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At East Bengal, and later at Mohammedan Sporting Club, he mesmerised fans with his skill, talent and charisma.

Like many modern-day strikers, he was blessed with pace. He regularly played in a free role, dropping deeper to help his team tick. Nicknamed ‘Badshah’, he scored and created goals with ease – from angles and distances that seemed to defy physics.

Him taking to vices and political turmoil in his homeland saw him leave India in 1990 – after two years at East Bengal and five years at Mohammedan.

Legendary Indian football and coach P. K. Banerjee credits Majid for ‘taking Kolkata football to a different level’.

He remains the standard to measure every foreign signing – a testament to the impression he made in this country.

 

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“I am my own role model. I make my own rules,” Chima once told Sportstar in an interview.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

 

Chima Okorie

Like Majid, Chima Okorie came to India in search of education. In 1984, the 21-year-old enrolled himself at the Vishakapatnam University to study architecture and played football as a hobby.

However, Mohammedan scouts soon spotted his talent and the club signed him ahead of the 1985/86 season. Two years later, East Bengal acquired his services before Mohun Bagan made him its first-ever foreign recruit in 1991 – breaking the bank to sign him.

If Majid could dance his way around defences, Chima would bulldoze his way through. His strength and stamina helped him score at will. In the 12 seasons he played in the Calcutta Football league, he top-scored seven times.

In six seasons between East Bengal and Bagan (1879 to 1993), he scored an incredible 226 goals. In all, for the three Kolkata giants, he scored 280 goals in around 400 appearances.

He was so prolific that he even packed his bags to go on trials in Europe – at Leeds United and Notts County. He made a few appearances for Grimsby Town FC and Sunderland AFC before deciding to return to India.

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He rejoined Bagan in 1997. Despite not being the burly, prolific striker he once was, fans loved him on his return nonetheless – choosing to cheer for the many memories and ignore his dwindling abilities.

A two-year ban in 1999 for assaulting a referee saw him slowly move into retirement.

“I am my own role model. I make my own rules,” he once told Sportstar in an interview. And true to his words, he lived and played on his terms.

 

Barreto never made a move across to crosstown rival East Bengal.

Barreto never made a move across to crosstown rival East Bengal.   -  R. Ragu

 

 

Jose Ramirez Barreto

If Mohun Bagan fans were unhappy with their club amending rules to sign foreign players, the disgruntled voices were laid to rest very quickly.

While Chima started things on the right note for foreigners at the club, Brazilian Jose Ramirez Barreto replicated his output and added multiple trophies for good measure.

His time at The Mariners was divided into two stints with spells at Penang FC and Mahindra United in between.

What worked for Barreto was the lack of baggage he came with. While both Majid and Chima gave their clubs a lot to deal with off the pitch, the Brazilian was a soft-spoken man and an exemplary professional. That and his ten hat-tricks against East Bengal – while also never making the move across to the crosstown rival.

A versatile player who loved playing in the number 10 role, his relentless tracking back quickly endeared him to both fans and teammates alike.

The Shobuj Tota (Green Parrot) even won the Indian Super League (ISL), not as a player but as an assistant to Antonio Habas at ATK in the inaugural season.

 

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Odafa scored 91 goals in 92 games in his three seasons with Mohun Bagan.   -  H. Vibhu

 

 

Odafa Okolie

Odafa Okolie came to India as an 18-year-old. At Mohammedan, his first club, he was played as a defender tasked with marking strikers rather than the other way around.

Not pleased with his role and looking for better financial returns, he crossed the border and joined Bangladesh’s Muktijoddha. Following a very successful season there, he was lured back to India.

From struggling in the maidans of Kolkata, he went on to become one of the best foreigners to grace the Goan streets. He scored for fun at Churchill Brothers and went on to become its vice-captain.

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Unlike the other strikers on this list, the Nigerian wasn’t interested in tracking back or entertaining the crowd with his skills. He did nothing but score goals, while scoring them in heaps. He scored 128 times in 177 games at Churchill, which also made him the highest-paid player in Indian football at one point.

He went back to Kolkata and showed Mohammedan the mistake it made with him by scoring 91 goals in 92 games in his three seasons with Mohun Bagan.

At most of his clubs, including at The Mariners, the management had to deal with a lot of problems but the Nigerian’s form was never one of them.

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