Born in Japan but true blue Indian now

The blue shirt always intrigued him. Like any other youngster growing up in Japan, Arata Izumi dreamt about playing for the national team some day. He got his big break, finally. But instead of the Blue Samurai, Izumi has to make do with playing for the Blue Tigers.

It will be a debut he will be proud of, nevertheless. Izumi became the first Person of Indian Origin to be selected for the Indian football team when he was named in the 23-member India squad for the international friendly match against Palestine, which will be played in Kochi on February 6. "I am too thrilled to think of anything to say at the moment. I can't say whether I was expecting it this time, but I would like to think that my hard work has finally paid off," Izumi told The Indian Express.

Izumi was born in Japan to an Indian father and a Japanese mother. He also holds an Indian birth certificate. But after his parents separated, Izumi became a Japanese citizen. He is married to an Indian girl, Shweta Manerikar.

The striker has been plying trade in India as a PIO since 2006 (East Bengal 2006-07, Mahindra United 2007-09, Pune FC 2009-present). Izumi decided to apply for Indian citizenship last year, hoping to play for his 'father land' some day. In August last year, his Indian passport arrived, just in time for his club Pune FC to register him with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) as an Indian player. "I never imagined that I would play for India when I first came to this country. Back then, my aim was to do well at the club level, didn't think much beyond that. Playing for India was an idea that came to me a couple of years back It's something that has happened over the year or two," he says.

Complete team man

Izumi is yet to meet coach Wim Koevermans, though the Dutchman has been following his progress for quite some time now. Whether Izumi manages to break into the playing XI is anyone's guess. But in a team that struggles to impose themselves on the opposition physically, the 30-year-old will add value to the squad. In the six years he has spent in India, he has created an impression of being someone whose work rate is high, has a strong physical presence on the field and a decent eye for goal. Derrick Pereira, who is Izumi's coach at Pune and earlier at Mahindra, believes the striker has an attitude that will help him excel at the international level. "He is a complete team man and has matured as a player over the last five years. What I like about him is that he is extremely hard working and is technically sharp," Pereira points out.

The AIFF has made attempts to include Indian origin footballers in the past. They came close to getting British striker Michael Chopra but the deal didn't materialise. Izumi feels PIOs can only help India improve as a team. "It's up to the AIFF to decide (whether to include more PIOs). But such players can have a positive impact on the team," he says.

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