Although Indian football, even today, isn't as relevant as it probably should be, what it has always had are foreign players who have come here and mesmerized fans with their talent and skill. Today we are going to present five such names that every Indian football fan should know about.
Jose Ramirez Barreto
Arguably the greatest ever to don the green and maroon of Mohun Bagan, Barreto or 'Sobuj Tota' (The Green Parrot), as he is lovingly called by fans, remains one of the best technicians to have played in India. Besides the Kolkata legacy club, he also played for Mahindra United for a season. Till date, he remains fifth in the list of top goalscorers in the National Football League/I-League and is the all-time top scorer for the Mariners with 228 goals against his name. His versatility meant that he could play a variety of positions ranging from centre-forward, second striker and even an attacking midfielder if needed.
The Iranian was one of the first foreign players to arrive in India and immediately win the fans over with his off-the-pitch persona as much as his footballing talent. Although he actually came here to study at Aligarh University, he ended up joining East Bengal towards the end of 1979. Immediately after, he won the Federation Cup in 1980 with the Red and Golds after defeating a much vaunted Mohun Bagan in the final. Then came the Rovers Cup and the IFA Shield, tournaments where he again showed his class as East Bengal ended up sharing the trophies with Mohammedan SC and Mohun Bagan respectively. But despite all his prodigious talent, Majid slipped into a hedonistic lifestyle soon after with issues with alcohol and substance abuse becoming a regular theme. As a result, his game suffered and even a high-profile move to Mohammedan failed to revive his career. However, Indian football will always remember him as an exceptional midfielder who was skillful, intelligent and made everyone around him better.
Majid's impact on Indian football as a whole would probably not have been as much without his partnership with Nassiri. His protege from back in Iran, Nassiri arrived in India with Majid and they went on to form one of the most legendary partnerships for East Bengal and then Mohammedan at the time. Jamshid was obviously the more disciplined of the two and was known for being a tall, strong centre-forward who on his day could destroy any defence. He top-scored in the Calcutta league twice and also became the first foreign player to score a century of goals. Between the both of them, they had the power to bring in people inside the stadium just by their mere presence and elevated Kolkata football to an altogether different level.
The Nigerian had also come to study in Vishakhapatnam in 1987 before finding himself playing for Mohammedan SC, then East Bengal and eventually Mohun Bagan. Considered to be one of the most feared strikers to have ever set foot on these shores, Chima's success started the trend of clubs going all out for tall African strikers. He scored more than 100 goals in his first three seasons with the red and golds before doubling up on that tally during his stay at Mohun Bagan. His power and aggression made him stand out as a striker as he also helped Mohun Bagan to their first NFL title in 1998 after a short spell in Europe in between.
The Anglo-Burmese striker came to India as a refugee during the Second World War and upon reaching Calcutta, requested East Bengal officials to try him out once. A frail looking Pugsley, tired from the atrocities back home and the exhaustion of walking all the way to India, soon became the talk of the town. In 1945, he helped East Bengal to their first domestic double in the form of the Calcutta League and IFA Shield. He even played for Bengal in the Santosh Trophy and scored all seven goals in a match against Rajputana. However, his stay in India was short as after the war ended, he returned to Myanmar with his family.