We'll see more Indian footballers in European leagues soon: Spanish La Liga star Aitor Ocio

Shadab Nazmi
Shadab NazmiMar 21, 2017 | 15:37

We'll see more Indian footballers in European leagues soon: Spanish La Liga star Aitor Ocio

"Would you like to talk in Spanish?" I ask him.

I try to talk in English, but let's just begin with Spanish.

He responds with a wide smile. Aitor Ocio, former La Liga player from Spain, was on a visit to India for the official La Liga Santander match screening of Atlético de Madrid vs Sevilla FC in Delhi.

And the only Indian football league he could remember was Atletico de Kolkata and it was all because it sounded similar to his former league Athletic Bilbao (seven years, two spells) where he led his team to win four major titles.


If I were given a chance to play in the Indian Super League, I would definitely play football here, he says.

But only as a footballer, not as a coach.

Born in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Álava, Ocio made his debut in La Liga with CA Osasuna during the 2000–01 season, after second-division spells with SD Eibar and Albacete Balompié, then came to prominence with Athletic Bilbao.

Baichung Bhutia was the first Indian player to play a competitive game for an overseas club. Photo: AP

He joined Sevilla FC in the 2003 summer on a three-year deal, going on to play a somewhat important part on a squad that won four titles (one Copa del Rey, two UEFA Cups and one UEFA Super Cup) in two seasons. During his four-year spell, he was the Andalusian's vice-captain behind Javi Navarro, and had the best personal output of 23 games and two goals during the 2005–06 season.

"I haven't seen many Indian footballers on the field, but football will definitely become a popular sport here and more Indian footballers will come to Europe to play," he replies, when asked about the future of football in India where cricket is the most popular sport.

Despite its poor ranking in the FIFA ratings, football in India has grown in terms of individual talent.


Mohamed Salim was the first-ever Indian player to sign a contract for an overseas club. He signed up for Scottish club Celtic in 1936. His career span lasted for only two exhibition matches for Celtic.

Baichung Bhutia was the second Indian player to have signed a contract with an overseas club. He agreed to a three-year contract with English club Bury F.C. and made his debut on October 3, 1999 against Cardiff City, becoming the first Indian player to play a competitive game for an overseas club.

He played 37 games for Bury FC, including a game against Manchester United, becoming the first Indian player to get to such a milestone.

Recently, 19-year-old Ashique Kuruniyan from Kerala was selected to be the part of Spanish club Villarreal CF, the only Malayali footballer to do so.

The development came within a few weeks of 18-year-old Kashmiri Ishan Pandita becoming the first Indian to sign a professional contract with a La Liga club, when he struck a deal with newly promoted CD Leganes.

"I don't who he is but trust me when I see European footballers coming to India to play, I can imagine the potential of Indian footballers on the field," Aitor says, when I ask him about Bhutia.


It's his first visit to India and he is already in love with the country. "India has a beautiful culture and it's evident on the roads. People with different cultural backgrounds live together. I would definitely like to come back. But definitely as a contributor on the field," he smiles.

And here is Aitor's message to all Indian footballers who are trying to excel and make it big in the game.

Last updated: March 21, 2017 | 15:46
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