India eager to bring Cardiff’s Chopra into national team fold

Cardiff City striker Michael Chopra could soon become the second Bluebirds forward to make his international bow after the 26-year-old confirmed his desire to play for India following Jay Bothroyd’s England debut last night.

The Newcastle-born star qualifies for India through his Indian father and Indian sports journalist Sanjeeb Mukherjea says Chopra would be welcome in the national team set-up.

“Football fans here would be happy to see Michael play for India. I don’t think ‘English-born’ will be a tag he would have to carry for long once he settles down,” Mukherjea said, adding: “We have had foreign players go on to become household names here in the domestic league – in fact 2 Iranians, the late Majid Bhaskar & Jamshed Nassiri who played for Kolkata-based clubs in the late 70’s are still remembered by the fans, so it’s not about where a player is born, its more about his talent that matters, at least to the fans and media here.”

Mukherjea also feels Chopra’s past rejection of an India call-up, when he was 22, will not harm his cause either: “To be honest, public memory is short – that isn’t something anyone will take up now. And for once the Football Federation has been quick to take up the issue, having already sent a letter to the Sports Ministry seeking its advice on the matter.” Mukherjea notes Indian football has already taken one Englishman to its heart, Coach Bob Houghton. “Bob has been a wonderful influence on the Indian team. From nursing star egos to helping little-knowns settle into the side, Bob has been a great positive for Indian football. Surely he will help Chopra find his feet here,” Mukherjea said.

Houghton, an experienced and well-travelled Coach, having led such disparate outfits as Bristol City, Malmo of Sweden and the China national side, amongst others, has been at the forefront of improving the game in India. Mukherjea said: “The national team, with a fine coach in Bob Houghton, has been slowly working itself up to the next level. Indian football is now in a stage that could well be called rebuilding, but as is the case with the game here, interest levels far exceed the groundwork being done to make India level with its other Asian counterparts.” Mukherjea continued: “The domestic game now lacks the same quality, or even fan following, except for little pockets across the country. It has been a long wait for football fans to see their national team achieve some sort of success, and for that, the federation bosses and the domestic structure need an overhaul.

“For instance, it’s so difficult for the national team coach Houghton to even get a group of players to a camp, away from their domestic schedule, and the federation hasn’t been that pro-active in acting on it. A lot of work needs to be done if we are to rise in esteem as a good football team. A couple of top-notch foreign clubs visiting once a year to play friendlies isn’t the way forward”

As for Chopra, it is a tight deadline for him to join the national team in time for next year’s Asian Cup – the squad must be finalised by December and government approval is still needed. But another Indian-English football venture could be completed by then too, according to Mukherjea: “The latest buzz on Venky’s takeover of Blackburn Rovers is that the deal will be finalised in the next fortnight.” It appears both Rovers and Chopra are about to start their own Indian adventure.

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