Yan Dhanda may be the latest footballer of Indian-origin to sign up for a English Premier League side but he’s not the first.
Michael Chopra and Neil Taylor have been there and done that before.
Chopra featured in the inaugural version of the Indian Soccer League in 2014 turning out for Kerala Blasters.
The former Newcastle United and Sunderland player has even expressed a desire to play for India. That will however be possible only if the former Magpie renounces his British passport as current Indian rules prevent persons of Indian origin (PIOs) from representing the country unless they have an Indian passport. The government has not yet delivered on its promise of allowing dual citizenship for Indians everywhere.
This would not be a first.
Arata Izumi gave up his Japanese citizenship in January, 2013 and became the first foreign-born player to play for the Blue Tigers, by adopting Indian citizenship. The Pune FC midfielder has represented India several times since.
In June last year, Chopra spoke of his wish to become eligible to play for India.
“I was going to play for them four years ago. But at that time I was only 26 and I was too young to give up my British passport and travel around the world at that age. I just had a little boy that was born and things like that, so it would have been difficult. My boy is six now and he has grown up and understands what his dad has got to do. So I plan to move to India and give up my British citizenship and get an Indian passport to play for the national team and take them forward.”
‘Rocky’ Chopra currently plays for Alloa Athletic, a Scottish championship club.
Chopra’s father is Indian and that makes him eligible to play for India as long as he surrenders his British passport in exchange for an Indian one.
Rocky is considered unlucky to be part of a NewCastle United line-up that included the likes of Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Patrick Kluivert.
Chopra harboured ambitions of managing and coaching his current side, Alloa Athletic, after the departure of Danny Lennon.
When Michael joined Alloa, he said:
‘I remember when I was at Newcastle and I was a young boy, I was playing with Alan Shearer, Michael Owen and Patrick Kluivert and they gave me the best experience possible.
They made me the player I am today and I’ll be looking to try and help all the young boys at the club and passing my experience on.
I will stay up here a lot of the time, although I’m going back to Newcastle this weekend because my son plays football and I can’t miss his game!
Otherwise, I will be up here training and playing, and I’m hoping to be able to train with St Mirren on a Friday if that can be finalised.
I’m also going to be coaching the kids on a Wednesday night. I want to put something back in and community coaching will be good.”
About his time at Kerala Blasters where he spent most of the time on the bench, Chopra said:
“That was a great experience. My dad is Indian, so that made it more interesting as well. Unfortunately I suffered a hamstring injury early on and then I ruptured my ankle ligaments, but it was still great seeing it all.”
Michael did not get the job. Jack Ross is his new manager.
Neil Taylor is another Indian-origin player participating in the Premier League.
He is Welsh and turns out for Swansea and the national side.
Taylor has been capped more than 25 times for Wales and represented Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics.
Taylor’s mother hails from Kolkata.
Speaking to Goal.com in 2012, Neil said:
“My mother comes from Calcutta and I have close family both there and in Delhi. I have visited my aunts, uncles and cousin several times when growing up and love the country.
Since I turned professional as a footballer at 16 I haven’t been able to visit India but it is a place I will return whenever I get the chance.
I think India would be a great place to stage the football World Cup. Football is a growing sport there, the Indian public is so passionate about sport (that I think) it would be an absolute winner.
It would bring football in India along in leaps and bounds; a bit like the 1994 World Cup has done for the USA.
There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a World Cup in India – if Qatar can stage it so can India.
Football in India is becoming much more developed and the vivid colours and culture of the country would make for a really distinctive event.
It is a country with the infrastructure to support a World Cup as it has proven with cricket.
Football in India is growing and improving and I think that is proved by the Venky family buying Blackburn Rovers.
The Premier League in England is the toughest and best league in the world, I think that is why it is attracting owners from around the globe.
So many of the clubs are now owned by people from other countries it really is a global brand.”
Speaking to the Independent a year later, the mixed-parentage soccer player speaking about the lack of Indian soccer players added:
“I want to know whether it is that they are not encouraged by their parents. Do they prefer a different sport? From what I remember from India, and what a lot of people say about the Indian people, it could be that a lot of the young people are encouraged to be doctors, surgeons and get pushed down the education route. I just wanted to know, is there more talent out there?
There are more Korean and Japanese players through the British leagues now but there are over a billion people in India, you know, and there’s an incredible density to the place. What I remembered of the country was that it is just cricket-mad. But when I went out this time I saw the change. It was monsoon time and you couldn’t even take your feet out of the grass. Sopping! But all the young people were playing football.
They knew Swansea and the way we played. India is perhaps the only part of the footballing world that is not tapped into. This was about finding out. For years, people didn’t know what origin I was. I’ve thought about it all. That’s all it really is.”
In June last year, Taylor renewed his contract with Swansea City signing a new four-year deal.
Later in November, Taylor whose father is English once again expounded on why he was the only British Asian player in the league.
“Well what’s the barrier? Growing up, and from what I know, for people of Indian origin, education is the number one priority.
All parents will drill their kids to be education-based, with your dreams put to one side to what will get you through life and get you a career.
The obvious question is why aren’t there any already.
I think it’s one of them things which has got a stigma attached to it and maybe players believe that they won’t get the opportunity, or that people (coaches) aren’t seeing them.
All these different types of things need to change.
I went out to India – I wanted to work with a charity along with finding if there were any players out there.
You know, there must be at least one! Looking at the amount of people out there, there’s got to be players who can play at a high level.
People say to me, athleticism. Does that come into it ? I said, I don’t think so.
I mean of course you look at the Olympics and you don’t see it littered with athletes from that part of the world. I think when I looked at it, I thought it can’t be.
People didn’t realise that I was Indian, it’s as simple as that – (from my name ) you wouldn’t know that I was Indian.
When I went to Kolkata and did a press conference, the next day, I got it. It was nice, people were saying welcome to our country, we’re glad people are coming out here.
People were then turning up to stadiums to see me after games and saying, ‘We didn’t know you’re Indian!’ It was great!
I wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for my parents! Every footballer you ask that plays on the pitch is unlikely to make it if their parents didn’t play a part in their making it to be a professional footballer. So you need that as well, from an early age.
My dad was big on education as well. I couldn’t go to football if I didn’t [complete] my education properly. It should be like that for everybody, unfortunately it’s not.
Everyone should get their education, everyone has got their own story, but I think that if you really believe that you can, and that’s what you want to do, then parents should always back their children to do that while still having education as a back-up if it doesn’t go how you want it to.”
Yan Dhanda is the latest to join the bandwagon(?) of Indian players in the Premier League.
The 17-year-old signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Liverpool .
It has been his dream to become of part of the Reds since he was 14.
Dhanda’s set-piece free kick against Manchester City in an Under-18 game has drawn over 72K views on YouTube.