The homepage of Arata Izumi’s website says: ‘Football Knows no Boundaries’. True to that sentiment, the first ever foreign national to have got the nod to play for India, the Japanese-born Izumi is keyed up to put his best foot forward for his adopted country against Palestine in the upcoming international friendly.
Born, to a Japanese mother and an Indian father, in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi, Izumi brings to the table traits rarely seen in Indian football. Quick feet, dazzling runs down the channels, dummy runs to draw defenders away and great positional awareness to keep track of both his opponents’ and teammates’ movements to receive or distribute passes with equal felicity.
Traits, which his Pune FC teammate and former India captain S Venkatesh, excelled in are a rare breed in India. And the suave Izumi acknowledges Venkatesh as “a legend in Indian football”. Having played alongside his mentor, the cheerful Izumi has good memories of the ground where he is slated to make his first appearance in international football on Wednesday. The 30-year old midfielder, who often plays as a roving second striker for his club Pune FC, scored once in a 3-0 defeat of Chirag United Kerala in an I-League game last April.
Having received an Indian passport last August, the call up to the national side was something he dearly wanted. “It will be the greatest moment of my life,” an elated Izumi said after a training session at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium here on Monday. “This is the first time I am getting such a thing... playing international football for a national team. That’s entirely different from playing for a club. I am very excited about playing for India. It’s up to the coach to decide whether to pick me or not. But if I get a chance, I will give my hundred per cent.”
Having started his professional career in the Singapore top division with Albirex Nigata in 2005, he has been playing club football in India since 2006 when he joined East Bengal. Seven I-League seasons later, having impressed at Mahindra United and Pune FC, Izumi is ready to play any role that the team deems him fit to perform. “I am a utility player. I am ready to play in any position the coach wants me to play. I am quite confident of playing in any position, but I prefer to play in the centre,” he said.