Football popularity in India dates back to the establishment of the Mohun Bagan in 1889. Football really took a right turn with Mohun Bagan´s victory over East Yorkshire Regiment in 1911. Today it might sound odd but the Indian football culture outdated that of some of the countries famous for football today. Football began way back in the 1850s when the natives saw the games being played by British army men.
Although the Indian team does not play football in the International Leagues directly, the craze for football as a sport does not end there. In terms of the fanbase, football attracts around 23.4m people across TV and OTT platforms. Competitions like the Indian Super League, Premier League, La Liga and FIFA Cup are really popular amongst Indians.
Just as for cricket leagues, all online platforms such as live streaming sites and online betting sites are flooded with football especially during the Champions League and FIFA season. The only difference can be that there are very few league matches that people show interest in, for example the major ones like the English Premier League, Champions League or the FIFA World Cup.
With the FIFA World Cup 2022 starting in November all the betting websites will go full swing with promotions on football. There are indeed many betting sites with a welcome bonus in India that have already started curating their bonus offers to make it special for all football betting fans in the Indian market.
Coming back to the game, the major question is have Indian players ever played in International Football Leagues and if yes, who are those legendary players. Here we have touched on the lives of some players that have scripted history at some point in their career with moves abroad.
When we talk of Indian footballers it is difficult to miss out Mohammed Salim. Afterall, he made several headlines in Scottish and English newspapers as the Indian Juggler-New Style. He was the first Indian footballer to play professionally in Europe and had a great journey playing for the Celtic Football Club.
He just astonished the crowd and supporters with his immense talent. Salim played for a few months in Scotland, before returning back to India and continued playing for the Mohammedan Sporting Club in the Calcutta football league later.
Sunil Chhetri is the captain of the Indian football team and also the Indian Super League Club Bengaluru is the footballer recognized by everyone in India to this date. He started his career playing for Mohun Bagan in 2002 and has had an eventful career ever since. He has played over 100 matches for India and became the highest-ever goalscorer with 84 goals.
Chhetri played for the MLS club Kansas City Wizards in 2010, becoming the first Indian player to play for an American top division side. He even played a friendly match against Manchester United in 2010. Finally he joined Sporting Lisbon in 2012 for a short span before returning to India.
Bala Devi is popularly known as the first Indian woman footballer to sign a professional contract for a European club.
In January 2020, Ngangom Bala Devi, who is also the Indian Women’s National football team highest goal scorer and also became the first Indian woman footballer to bag a contract with Scottish club Rangers FCs. She is infact the first Asian footballer to represent Rangers FC.
Bhaichung Bhutia, who was also known as the “Sikkimese Sniper” because of his shooting skills in football. He is associated with the rise of not only Indian football but also as the torchbearer of Indian football in the international arena.
Bhaichung Bhutia played most of his club career switching from Mohun Bagan to East Bengal. In 1999, he rose as the first ever Indian player to sign a professional contract for Manchester-based side Bury. He spent 3 seasons and played 37 league games but managed to score only 3 goals after which he returned to India. He also played for other clubs like JCT Mills, United Sikkim, and two other Malaysian clubs during his career.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is a trailblazer in Indian football. He joined the St Stephen’s Academy in Chandigarh and worked his way into the Punjab state youth teams. In 2009, he signed his contract and joined the East Bengal Club soon before making a senior debut.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu plays as the goalkeeper for Bengaluru FC and the Indian national team. His safe hands have become a routine saviour for his club and country. He waited as the second choice keeper for three years in the Norwegian club Stabaek. But the long wait seemed worth it when he became the first Indian player to feature in the Europa League game.
The great performance and enthusiasm that these elite players have shown over the years has laid the groundwork for future generations to follow their footsteps. This might inspire and motivate more Indians to take up football as a career and achieve success in major events such as the UEFA Champions League, Premier League, and other top leagues.