A-League to India: the Aussie exodus

Our Asian football expert examines the Australians who've made their home in the burgeoning football culture in India...

Australians travel everywhere around the world and football is no exception. 

India's I-League may have only been in existence as a professional entity since 2007, but there has been, and continues to be a significant Aussie presence in the subcontinent.

Whether for those players on the fringes of A-League starting elevens, those in the early throes of a career or those just looking for a little adventure, the I-League offers plenty on and off the pitch. 

At the moment, there are three Australians in the top tier but there have been quite a few over the years.

Tolgay Ozbey had a short spell with Newcastle Jets, interspersed with time playing for clubs such as Blacktown City Demons and Marconi Stallions before he was signed by East Bengal in 2010, along with Mohun Bagan, one of the two titans of Kolkata football. The derby between the two is legendary, attracting 100,000 in an atmosphere that few other Asian games can match.

Coach Trevor Morgan, English born and bred but now also holder of Australian nationality, has played a big part in the Indian career of the 28 year-old.

“I had Tolgay for two years at East Bengal,” said Morgan one of the leading coaches in India. “He was top scorer both years and did really well for us - that was 2010-12. He moved onto Mohun Bagan, then Mohammedan Sporting Club, both in Kolkata, until signing at Dempo last season.” 

Now the two have been reunited at the home of the Goan giants where he lines up along former Melbourne Victory maestro Carlos Hernandez). 

This season, the I-League's most successful club with three titles to its name, has struggled a little though with Ozbay out of action, that is perhaps a little understandable.

“He has been out injured most of this season but will hopefully be back in seven to ten days,” explained Morgan. 

“He gets in behind defenders and is a good finisher with either foot, he causes problems that not many other strikers offer in India and we have missed his services.”

Former Newcastle Jets striker Sean Rooney has been helping Bengaluru FC to the title, scoring ten goals last season as the team from the city commonly known as Bangalore finished in first place. The 26 year-old has held his own in an attack that contains India's biggest star in Sunil Chhetri.

Rooney enjoyed a spell with Goa with Salgaocar in 2012 before returning to Australia and Blacktown City Demons. 

In 2013, the pint-sized forward was snapped up by Bengaluru and has been a fixture in the team ever since. Playing through a hernia-induced pain barrier in 2014 as the club won the title was just one of the reasons why he was handed a new contract.

He has been compared to a certain Wayne Rooney, for obvious reasons, by the Indian media, but was quick to laugh off such suggestions, even if there is a Red Devil connection at the club with head coach Ashley Westwood, a former youth club at Old Trafford.

"I don't think there is any comparison there. I just laugh about it. He's Wayne Rooney and I am Sean Rooney. He's one of the best strikers in the world and I idolise him and I look up to him as a player," he told Indian media.

And then there's the globe-trotting Milan Susak. This defender has had spells in the A-League with Adelaide United and Brisbane Roar followed by stints at some big teams. Signed by Chinese club Tianjin Teda in 2013, he has subsequently played in Iran for 2007 AFC Champions League finalist Sepahan and Al Wasl in Dubai. 

Now the 31 year-old is at East Bengal and is a mainstay of the prestigious club, missing just one game this season with a hand injury.

Susak decided to go there on the recommendation of Simon Colosimo. Colosimo, a former Sydney FC, Perth Glory and Melbourne City star, spent a short spell in 2014 with Dempo.

Former Brisbane Roar FC man James Meyer is another ex-A-Leaguer with recent Indian experience as is one time Melbourne Victory defender Matthew Foschini, this time at Salgaocar.

More are sure to follow especially if, as expected, Indian football continues to grow.