The lack of playing time for young Indian forwards has been a major concern among football aficionados in the country in the last few seasons. With no striker other than Sunil Chhetri playing regularly in the Indian Super League (ISL), national team coach Igor Stimac's options have been cut down.
Chennaiyin FC assistant coach Syed Sabir Pasha was at pains to underscore the fact that Indian forwards need to show some mental fight in order to raise their levels and claim a place in the starting XI.
The 47-year-old, who was a regular in the India team in the '90s, explained that despite some big-name foreigners like Chima Okorie plying their trade in India during his time, Indian forwards like IM Vijayan and Bhaichung Bhutia used to take it up as a challenge and carve a spot for themselves in the team.
"In our time, we also had competition with many great foreign players. But we coped with the challenge. Normally, you bring in foreigners to show young players what sort of quality to expect at the international level. What happened was we took it as a challenge.
"Players like Bhutia, IM Vijayan and all overtook the foreigners and started playing in the starting XI instead of them. There were huge foreigners like Chima Okorie at that time but Indian forwards kept scoring goals," said Pasha.
The former Indian Bank striker feels that the current crop, despite their talent, are resigned to their fate on the bench the minute the team signs a foreigner.
"Nowadays, there is no mental fight. When they see foreigners, the young forwards give up and are resigned to their role on the bench. You need that fighting quality and can’t wait for people to give you freebies.
"They have talent but they feel the foreigners are superior and have the right to play. They have to take it as a challenge and prove it to the coach. The players these days get mentally bogged down when there is such a challenge," he added.
Pasha highlighted players like Sunil Chhetri and Jeje Lalpekhlua as examples the young forwards need to learn from. The fighting attitude in youngsters is crucial for the Indian national team, he argued.
He also stated the foreigners who come to India these days are not exactly at the level of those who came during his days, with most of them coming to India at the very end of their career.
"You take Chhetri for example or Jeje. These players play in the first XI even when there are foreigners in the team because they have this fighting quality. If you are scoring goals, no foreigners can take your place. The foreigners are brought in order to show what you must aspire to be.
"If the players don’t rise up to the challenge, the national team does not benefit. The foreigners who are coming these days are not that great players as back then. Yes, they are good players but they are coming in the final stages of their career. Our boys are supposed to displace them from the starting XI.
"If they can’t do this at the club, how can they do it at the national level."