India is an interesting country. Some parts lie shadowed with poverty and some are brimming with the rich. There are places so ugly it’s hard to watch even on screen, and then there are places so beautiful they will leave you speechless.
You’ll have someone with a very high status, lacking any talent, and then someone who had sold soda bottles as a kid with unbelievable skill.
One such person is I. M. Vijayan. At an early age, he made his living selling soda bottles for 10 paise each, which is less than a U.S. penny. Today, he is regarded as one of the best footballers India has ever seen, and is the highest-earning footballer in India.
Vijayan was born in 1969, in Kerala. He made his first football appearance at the age of 17 for the Kerala Police and soon became highly accepted in domestic football.
Later, Vijayan played for teams like Mohun Bagan a very popular Indian club, and East Bengal. There, he partnered with India football celebrity, Baichung Bhutia.
Vijayan was known as a deadly striker. Aggressive and accurate, he was a lethal combination for opposing teams.
If India has more players like him, they might be unbeatable. Once he passes the wall of defense, a goal is undeniable, causing opposing teams to fear him.
On paper, he is just as notable, being the first Keralite to win the Arjuna Award and Footballer of the Year three times. He also scored the fastest-ever international goal, clocking in at 12 seconds against Bhutan.
Thailand and Malaysia both showed interest in him, but he decided to stay on in India. He retired as the highest goal scorer in the country. Vijayan was a team player, a match winner, and a great fan of the sport.
What amazes me is how many Indian players have gone unnoticed.
There are legend-worthy players with unbelievable talent from the poorest of families, yet they fade away in time and we go back to our conversation of how India isn’t producing any good football.
Is it the lack of resources? Or the ignorance of people?
If a soda bottle seller can be a top footballer, if a “Slumdog” can win the top prize in the game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, if someone who lifted a wicketkeeper's gloves because his coach asked him to can captain the Indian cricket team, what are we missing?
Vijayan is a well-respected player, but not very well known. He should be looked up to. You don’t have to be a superstar to be great. No one ever knows what talent lies hidden within them.
Having said that, things seem to have gotten better for Indian football recently. Akshay Joshi, a 10-year-old, is now being brought into the limelight. The fact that he scored 26 goals in six games shows how bright his future is.
Akshay, the son of a headload worker, was spotted playing for Vision India Projects, helping the future of Indian football. His favorite player is Cristiano Ronaldo and he says that his ambition is to score more goals and become a famous footballer.
Composure and skill are some of his qualities, yet we are still to see him play. There is no doubt this kid will one day play for India, but for now his story shows a positive side of football.
Kerala has promised to improve the football in its state. Manchester United and Chelsea have shown interest in helping to improve football in the country.
If India can be a force in cricket, tennis, hockey, chess, and so much more, then football should be next on the list.
And, finally, I sign out with the words of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy.