MLS, Europe next destination for India's best footballers

As we speak, Europe's biggest clubs are developing strategies to crack the Indian football market.

As we speak, Europe's biggest clubs are developing strategies to crack the Indian football market.

India is football's new frontier, the overwhelming response to Bayern Munich's tour last year has kicked the game's powerbrokers into action. But bridging the gap between Europe's highest-profile competitions and India's domestic talent is proving insurmountable. For now, there is no Indian footballer capable of making an impact in the Premiership or Italy's Serie A - and so the commercial potential remains a pipedream.

Which is where a competition like the United States' MLS can take advantage.

With the standard not as demanding, there is an opportunity for India's best to make a step up - and in the process allow MLS powerbrokers to utilise their experience with David Beckham to make inroads into the Indian sports market.

Bobby Houghton, India's national team coach, is convinced several of his players are capable of succeeding in Europe - particularly in the Scandinavian leagues. And Eddie Rock, shares his opinion.

Rock, a US-based FIFA player agent, has signed three of Houghton's squad to his Libero Sports company and is confident he can place them either in MLS or in Europe.

He told tribalfootball.com: "I received a call from Arvind Narayan when I was in Scandinavia, on business, this summer. Arvind explained that he has strong connections to players with the Indian national team and suggested they may be interested in moving abroad.

"We conducted an extensive review of the Indian market and concluded that it's very similar to the United States twenty years ago. We've been working closely with Arvind over the past six months and recently signed Steven Dias, Subrata Pal and Lal Kamal Bhowmick. We see India as an emerging football market and we expect to have a permanent presence."

Mohun Bagan midfielder Lal Kamal Bhowmick has already caught the eye of Bayern Munich, while Mahindra United attacker Steven Dias was linked with DC United of the MLS last month. Young East Bengal goalkeeper Subrata Pal is another Houghton believes can play at a higher level.

While the commercial potential of successfully placing Indian players is exciting, Rock is adamant none of his clients will move for anything but football reasons.

He said: "If our clients move outside India, they will do so for football-specific reasons. The ultimate commercial impact and success will depend upon the player's ability to hold a place in the starting lineup, which will also open doors for other Indian players.

"Too many times US players have made the mistake of moving to the best 'name' in Europe as opposed to the best fit for the player. There's no point in being the 25th player in the squad. Long-term success is our paramount focus.

"It would be a missed opportunity if US and Indian soccer don't work together moving forward.

"Our countries are connected in many ways. Indian immigrants are a major part of our economic engine and there are many Indian-Americans who would be keen to see greater cooperation between our clubs and companies. Libero's business plan includes working with Indian football clubs to share our best practices as a country, along with the mistakes which should be avoided."

The prospect of bringing Indian players to MLS has caught the imagination of the American soccer media, as Rock admits: "I have been contacted by many journalists here in the United States.

"The story broke at the same time as Slumdog Millionaire's sweep of the Golden Globe awards and there were a few articles making the comparison. I've been careful to make sure that the stories in the media don't run ahead of the work with MLS league officials and clubs in Scandinavia.

"There's obvious interest from the officials I've spoken with but there are a number of steps that must be addressed when dealing with the MLS league office."

Libero Sports have a strong presence across Scandinavia and Rock doesn't necessarily disagree with Houghton that the likes of Denmark or Sweden could be a better destination for his Indian clients than the 'States.

"We will present our clients with the options available. Some players will benefit from moving to MLS and others will be better suited to move directly to Europe. Each player is an individual and will have different options.

"We have an exclusive partnership with Jonas Wirmola and Wirmola Football Scouting in Scandinavia.

"Wirmola spent the majority of his professional career with Malmo and also a season with Sheffield United in the EPL.

"Following his playing career, Wirmola moved into coaching and management in Sweden. His contacts in Scandinavia and England will be instrumental in helping place Indian players in Europe," added Rock.

Whether it's in Europe or his native United States, Rock is on the verge of breaking new ground - and if successful, he won't just have the gratitude of Indian football, but also the game's biggest clubs.

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