India loses out as Asia teams turn to overseas soccer talent
When a country with a population of 180,000 is victorious over a nation of more than a billion in the football arena, it would normally be classed as a shock.
When Guam held off India 2-1 in a June 16 World Cup qualifier, India coach Stephen Constantine was not surprised.
Guam has deepened its pool of players by looking to the United States for professionals eligible to play for the Pacific Island team. Other Asian nations have also benefited from making use of scattered but eligible players, wherever they may be. India is now considering following suit.
"People see losing to Guam as an upset, but for me it wasn't an upset," Constantine told The Associated Press. "They have 11 well-coached players that are coming from a significantly higher standard of football than we are playing here.
"I want to try anything that could improve the Indian team," the Englishman added. "We have (potential) players in the United Kingdom, the United States and Norway, and if everyone else is doing this then why not do it too?"
In India, however, the debate is academic because government rules don't allow for the so-called Players of Indian Origin (PIO) to represent India unless they surrender their original passport.
Players of dual nationality are not allowed. This could be one reason why India is no longer the champion of the South Asia Football Federation. That tournament was last won in 2013 by Afghanistan, a team that included players of Afghan heritage plying their trade with clubs in Germany, Scandinavia and America.
"I am not a politician and there are a lot of complex issues surrounding this," Constantine said. "My feeling is why can't we issue them temporary passports while they are in the service of the national team? They are not given any rights like Indian citizens, just selected for the Indian national team, they are happy and we will give them a temporary passport.
"I admit that it is a short-term solution, not the answers to our prayers — which is kids in schools playing football and a strong football culture."Gary White, another Englishman, was appointed to take over the Guam national team in 2012 and has made significant progress at all levels of development.
The Guam senior team has won both its games in the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2018 World Cup and sits on top of Group D. Among other strategies, White sought to overcome the confines of population by recruiting eligible players abroad.
"We set up a player identification camp in the United States," White said. "There's also a big U.S. navy and army base in Guam, and so we knew that there may be people who were born here who could play for us.
"We have a wide net," he explained. "We wanted Ryan Guy at New England Revolution in the MLS, we tried to convince him but we were getting beat by double figures and they were not interested. We had to sell the vision of a long-term future. I knew that if we could get Ryan, then others would follow."
White said Ryan's recruitment proved to be the catalyst: "Now players are contacting us."For Constantine, it makes sense to follow in the footsteps of others. "Pakistan do it and the Philippines have been doing it for years."
Pakistan, for example, has called up former English Premier League defender Zesh Rehman as its captain. The Philippines started to select players, mainly born in Europe to a Filipino parent, including Neil Etheridge and Stephan Schrock. The Philippines has won both of its 2018 World Cup qualifiers so far.
It has not been without controversy.Rehman, and other foreign-born Pakistani internationals, have been criticized by former players in the local media for a perceived lack of devotion to the cause.
In 2012, the Philippines Football Federation officially complained to a television network over comments from well-known local broadcaster Arnold Clavio about the national team that were perceived to be racist after he claimed some players were not Filipinos.
Despite the current debate in India, it remains to be seen if the Indian government changes its rules and, even if it does, when it happens. Any development may come too late to salvage India's ambitions of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
"At the end of the day," Constantine said. "We need to do all we can to put a strong a team as possible on the pitch."