Erik Paartalu is well-travelled but even this 33 year-old who has flown back to Australia from clubs in Scotland, China,Thailand, South Korea and Qatar over the years heaved a sigh of relief as he arrived back at Sydney’s airport earlier this month.
It had been a longer than usual flight back from India due to the coronavirus outbreak that has caused airlines to ground aircraft and governments to tighten travel restrictions.
After his third season in the Indian Super League (ISL) with Bengaluru FC ended on March 8, the former Melbourne City and Brisbane Roar midfielder took a relaxing trip to Goa. Soon after, he received a message.
“My old man texted saying that if I wanted to come home then I needed to do it soon,” Paartalu told The World Game.
“I usually fly via Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok but instead I went back on myself and went to Abu Dhabi and then to Sydney. When I got to the airport in Sydney, I looked at the flights I could have taken and they had all been cancelled.”
Life in India, now in a full lockdown due to the spread of the virus, was already starting to slow down as Bengaluru, champions last season, were in action in the finals series against Kolkata outfit ATK in early March.
“That was the only time we started to get worried. We beat ATK in the first leg of the semi-final and there was then talk of 50 or 60,000 coming to Kolkata for the second and we were thinking that it would be great.
"There was serious talks about it going ahead behind closed doors. We lost and ATK beat Chennai behind closed doors.”
It was the end of a successful three years in India with the ISL, which kicked off in 2014, becoming stronger and stronger.
“The ISL is absolutely getting better. The first two seasons, without being cocky, you knew we would be in the top four and then we knew it would be between us and Goa last season.
"This time, three or four teams were serious title contenders and I think there will be six or seven teams next year. It will be very competitive.”
While Bengaluru may not have successfully defended their title, Paartalu was satisfied with how the campaign went.
“I was pretty happy personally and I think it was the best season I had over there. I was motivated to have a good year. I had an injury at the end of last season and rolled my ankle just before the start of this and missed the first three games. I scored in my first game and made an assist.
"It wasn’t the best season as a team but we have had a good run in the past couple of years.”
Paartalu is now in Sydney and considering his options when his contract ends at the end of May though, with the present global situation, things are a little more complex than usual.
“I have had offers since December. I came back with an opportunity to clear my mind and I am taking my time.
"Coronavirus is already affecting some things. Companies are not wanting to invest in clubs.”
A return to India is possible.
“They aim to start pre-season in July and the season in September but we will have to wait and see.”
He could be joined by a few more Australians and hopes that is the case.
“Players need to understand that they have an Asian passport all around Asia and they can play, earn more money and have a better experience than back home.
"Of course, I have had some good times and bad times but I will never regret taking the opportunity."
“With China, Japan and South Korea and Thailand becoming harder and looking for established internationals if possible, then India can be a good place. I had my questions going there but they were answered quickly.
"I have had two or three players asking about India and a few texts. A lot of boys are concerned about the perception of Indian football and wonder whether they can make a move after. If you are young enough then you will be fine.
"I am 33 though so I have to think about that.”