Opinion

Why India is becoming a major market for Australians

New FC Goa defender James Donachie Source: Twitter

On Friday, FC Goa announced their new loan signing James Donachie.

“People call him many things,” said the voiceover on the official welcome video with a snazzy eighties-style backing track.

“The Chief, The Beast, The Last Man Standing… presenting James Donachie. His friends call him ‘Donks’. You? You can call him ‘Don’.”

The Newcastle Jets defender will spend the coming Indian Super League (ISL) season, which is due to start in November, with the west coast team.

Goa topped the table last season, though they fell at the first hurdle of the final play-off series.

That was enough however to book a first ever Indian berth in the group stage of the 2021 AFC Champions League.

This season may be the perfect time to play in Goa, a former Portuguese enclave that may be known more for beautiful beaches than the beautiful game but is actually a hotbed of football on the subcontinent.

Due to the threat of the coronavirus, all the league’s games will be played in Goa this season, although it will make exploring this huge and diverse country more difficult.

As diverse as it is, one factor is common among ISL clubs as India is becoming the number one Asian market for Australian players.

Five of the 11 teams have Australians on their books, with four coming over in September alone.

Erik Paartalu has become a popular player at Bengaluru over the last three seasons and recently signed a new deal at the Blues.

Earlier this month Joel Chianese joined Hyderabad while Jacob Tratt moved to Odisha FC. At the same time, Brad Inman left Brisbane Roar to head to champions ATK Mohun Bagan.

If almost half of the teams in one of Asia’s fastest-growing leagues are bringing in Australian talent, with about seven weeks until the season kicks off, there is plenty of time for more welcome videos.

A major reason for this is the ISL’s Asian rule.

Many leagues on the continent have adopted the ‘three plus one rule’. The likes of China and South Korea allow teams to sign three players from anywhere in the world but if a maximum of four is reached, one of those must be from an AFC member nation.

Yet India went a step further than other leagues (and two steps further than the A-league).

It is now mandatory for teams to sign one Asian player. By the time it all kicks off in November, all 11 clubs will have one in their ranks. And that means there are still shoppers in the market.

Australia is attractive for a number of reasons. One is that stars such as Paartalu have performed well on and off the pitch.

Australians are seen as good professionals, good team-players and the use of English also helps.

There is, of course, the fact that the current salary situation in the A-League makes Australian players even cheaper than before.

They are not much of a risk at all, especially when the contracts are relatively short, with the likes of Tratt and Donachie signing one-year deals.

According to sources in India, Goa looked at players from Iran, Iraq and South Korea before making the decision to plump for Donachie.

With Goa boasting a strong Spanish streak, with their coach and four players from the European country, the towering defender is seen as being exactly what is needed in defence.

Not only is he physically imposing but it is felt that he is comfortable enough on the ball to fit in well alongside Spanish centre-back Ivan Gonzalez.

His past experience in the AFC Champions League with Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar was another plus, with Goa excited about their debut in the competition in 2021.

A year in Goa should be a great experience on and off the pitch for Donachie, but even if it isn’t, there are already a number of fellow Australians to keep him company and more are set to follow.