Johnny Acosta is an established name in Costa Rican football. He has played in the World Cup twice — 2014 and 2018 — and captained his club in the highest division of the country’s domestic league. But the love showered on him by the Indian fans made him give up a comfortable life at home and move to Kolkata in March. This week, Acosta left the City of Joy with a sense of gloom. At the first sight of a crisis, apparently, he was abandoned by his club East Bengal, which terminated his contract prematurely. At a time when international flights are grounded, this left him without wages or a place to stay. Acosta found shelter at the Costa Rican embassy in New Delhi.
India might not know how to play football — at least not at the same level as the best — but it does know how to follow the game. For decades, India’s football tragics have embraced foreign stars, no matter where they come from. Till today, terraces across the country fantasise over Iranian Majid Bishkar’s trickeries from the early ’80s, Nigerian Chima Okorie’s bulldozing that ran through the ’90s and Brazilian Beto’s sublime playmaking abilities that lit up the field in the Noughties. These players, and many more, were made to feel like heroes. The affection led to some of them making India their adopted land.
Of course, the clubs paid them huge sums, and six-figure salaries were becoming routine, but the truth is Indian football was enriched far more because of them. So, the ordeal Acosta faced comes as an embarrassment not just for Indian football, but also the fans who have kept the domestic game alive and relevant. The players’ body as well as the All India Football Federation must ensure players — Indian or foreign — do not suffer because of the inefficiency of some clubs and their administrators.