New Delhi: Japanese Arata Izumi is all set to don India colours when the national team plays Palestine in a friendly match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on Wednesday. A pleased Arata, who got Indian citizenship last year, spoke his heart out in a freewheeling chat with the AIFF website. Excerpts:
What was the reaction when you stepped into the National Camp?
I was given a warm welcome by all. 'Welcome to the Team, Brother,' was the general sentiment. I know everyone and have been fortunate to play with some of them in various club teams. But the National squad is something different. Right now, they are my colleagues and have made me very comfortable indeed. I thank them for that. And it's not just the players. I need to thank Coach and other members of the support staff for their cooperation. This is my new Home.
How is the National Team different from a club team?
Very different! It's all about the atmosphere. In a club, you will find that sometimes there isn't much communication, for example, between 19-year olds and foreign recruits and maybe, even star players. It happens all over the World.
But the National squad is where you play for a different cause. It comprises of mature footballers and the focus is something else.
Can you elaborate?
It's about the responsibility and professionalism and environment. You need to spread the right kind of message as you are representing the Nation. While in a club, allegiance of every fan stay different. But they all look up to you when you wear the National logo. When you win or lose, the entire country shares your emotions which is not the case in a club as you may always have a fan having a different emotion than you even if you win or lose, simple because he supports another club.
What was your experience in the first day of practice?
We have a recovery session as we had played the earlier day. Later, we had an interaction with local blind footballers and it was an entirely different experience. It was heartening to know they knew the names of everyone. We mingled with them and even played blindfolded. Reaching out to all stays the aim and we spread the right kind of message. There are additional duties off the pitch too. That's why the National Team is something which all players stay desperate to play for.
What do you feel about the match against Palestine?
This is an important match for us. The Coach is stressing on match videos a lot and explaining what he wants from us. Just today morning (Monday - February 4), he took me and other new joinees (Vineeth, Lalkamal, Gurjinder, Shouvik and Sandip Nandy) to the tactic board and taught us at length some integral points. We also had to sing the National Anthem during breakfast. It gives you a sense of belonging. If I get a chance to play on 6th, I will give my best and stick to the instructions. Palestine are a tough team but we are ready.
What does this call-up mean for you?
To be honest, I have been dreaming about it right from the moment I got my Indian passport. I appreciate the call-up and thank Coach for keeping his faith on me. I know there are many who believe I am not an Indian as I don't originally hail from the country. My mom stays a Japanese while my dad is an Indian. But all of that doesn't perturb me at all. I know I am an Indian at heart and it's the end of the story. India is a huge country and the fact that I am in the squad of 23 means a lot to me. I'm proud of the blue kits which have been handed over to me. I have earned them.
You had a valid Japanese passport. What prompted you to be an Indian citizen?
Applying for an Indian citizenship was the biggest decision in my life. There were a lot of things which went through my mind and I could have never taken this decision alone. I spoke to a lot of people to whom I am indebted in my life - my teachers, friends and my family. All of them understood and appreciated the fact that it was my life and I needed to take a decision keeping my career and future in mind.
Do you feel this will prompt more PIOs to opt to play for India?
The dual passport rule has robbed India of many a quality big players. There are a lot of PIOs playing all over the World who are eager enough to don the India Blue. If my shift makes them rethink, let it be so. If they shift over to India, it will help us a great deal for sure.