I-League perfect stepping stone for south Asian players: Nepal captain Kiran Limbu

The Punjab FC goalkeeper hopes his performances in India can open the door for more footballers from Nepal and south Asia to play in the I-League.

By Utathya Nag ·

Nepal national football team captain Kiran Kumar Limbu believes India’s I-League can provide footballers from south Asian countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and others, the perfect platform to grow and reach the next level.

Kiran Limbu is playing in the I-League 2021 with Punjab FC. This is his second season in India, having helped Minerva Punjab (now Punjab FC) to the title in the 2017-18 I-League season.

“In the South Asia region, the level of league football in India is better than the other neighbouring countries and there is more exposure here. Getting the proposal to join an I-League club is like playing at the next level,” Kiran Limbu told the official I-League website.

Kiran, who has over 60 caps for his national team, made eight I-League appearances in the 2017-18 campaign but looks set to feature more frequently this time around. The goalkeeper has already started both of Punjab FC's matches this season.

The 30-year-old Kiran Limbu believes that if he continues performing well, it will pave the way for more of his countrymen to ply their trade in India.

“The door will definitely open for more Nepali players. I try my best in every match and every year to play well here and try to open the door for other players from my country,” Kiran, who has also played league football in the Maldives, stated.

“The more they get the chance to play here, the better it is for them and for the upcoming generation of players. I hope to see six-seven players get the opportunity to play in India. It will be really good for us and the national team too,” he added.

Unsurprisingly, Kiran Limbu isn’t the only player from a south Asian country who has chosen the I-League as a platform. Kiran’s Punjab team-mate and good friend Chencho Gyltshen is a Bhutanese superstar.

Dubbed the Bhutanese 'Ronaldo', Chencho has been a regular in the I-League setup since 2020 and was adjudged the Best Forward of I-League 2017-18 after playing a key role in helping Minerva Punjab bag the title that season.

Chencho has also played in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2018-19 for Bengaluru FC.

This season, Bangladesh national football team’s Denmark-born captain Jamal Bhuyan is also playing for Kolkata club Mohammedan Sporting.

“It does feel great to see all these players from neighbouring countries play together and compete. I want to see as many players as possible from the South Asian region emerge and compete at this stage,” Kiran Limbu noted.

“So far, there are only three of us in India and I hope that more such opportunities will open up for others in the future,” he added.

Lead photo: AIFF