The Indian football team in the last couple of years have managed to make quite an impression on the pitch. But an area of major concern for coach Igor Stimac has been the backline and when he called Anas Edathodika out of his retirement last year. In fact, the concern in the ranks when Sandesh Jhingan got injured before the World Cup qualifier against Bangladesh once again highlighted India's lack of depth in the backline.
Speaking to IANS, Monoranjan Bhattacharya, who was one of the best central defenders of his time and represented India in various international tournaments including Asian Games, said that this problem started ever since the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) allowed four foreigners in I-League teams, including one Asian quota player.
"If you observe, since then every team started recruiting two foreign central defenders, one mid-fielder and one striker and sometimes two foreign central defenders and two foreign strikers. Two central defenders to stop conceding goals and two strikers to score goals.
As the foreign recruits were occupying these four spots in most of the league teams, Indian players hardly got any chance in these positions. Let me tell you that not only defenders, we will also not be able to produce good strikers because of this," he pointed.
Commenting on the reason for the success he achieved, Monoranjan said: "During our time there were hardly any foreigners playing in India and because of this we got ample opportunity and hence you see there were number of central defenders at that time. Now the scene has changed and you will find most foreign recruits are mainly occupying that position.
"Today, because of these foreign recruits our players are not getting enough games. You can see that mid-fielders or goal keepers are coming up even side backs also but in these two positions we have not been able to produce good footballers. Let me tell you that once Sunil Chhetri retires, Indian striking force will also be zero."
Monoranjan feels that the AIFF needs to work on this. "AIFF has to think over it. They can tell the league clubs that you bring foreigners but then give Indian footballers a chance too. Play one foreign central defender alongside Indian defenders. Same with the strikers, play one foreign striker with one Indian striker. The federation has to bring in this kind of options," he said.
Monoranjan agreed with Stimac who said that Indian clubs should reduce foreigners. "English Premier League is one of the most attractive leagues in the world but then where does England stand in world football? Their results in World Cup or European Cup are not that impressive. The reason being the same that those clubs recruit number of foreigners, there is no restriction," he pointed.
The former footballer is not against clubs recruiting foreigners, but wants clubs to bring good footballers so that the Indians can learn from them. "If you don't give our players an opportunity to play, how can you judge whether a player is good or bad. I-League or Indian Super League (ISL) all the clubs have foreigners in these two key positions," he rued.