In a breakthrough deal, Indian Super League club FC Pune City's youngster Muhammed Ashique was signed on loan by La Liga club Villarreal, making him the first player from an Indian academy to be recruited by a major Spanish team.
The 19-year-old winger from Kerala has featured for India in age-group football, playing for the U-19 and U-18 teams. Ashique has been marked out for his dribbling skills, has been deployed on the flanks for much of his career, and can also operate as a striker. He has been playing in the Pune academy for the last two years.
When asked about the offer to play with the Yellow Submarine, Ashique said it was a "dream come true", reported ESPN. "All these years, we would admire these top clubs and their players from afar, but thanks to FC Pune City and Villarreal, I will get a chance to play at one of the most respected clubs in Spain," he said.
"The thing I am most excited about is how I will interact with their players, their coaches, and I'm also looking forward to seeing what facilities they have to offer. I have never been to Europe, though I have been to countries like Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand and Palestine with the Under-19 team," he added.
Villarreal President Fernando Roig and La Liga President Javier Tebas both stated that Ashique's move was a part of long-term plan to identify and blood Indian talents in the Spanish league. "Villarreal CF was more than happy to absorb [Muhammed] Ashique Kuruniyan in their side because we saw the spark in him," Roig said. "Our coaches will work on him and we will aim to realise his true potential. His development as a player is given and this will only bode well for football in India in general."
Only a month ago, German giants Bayern Munich had signed up a 11-year-old Indian, Chandan Nayak, from an impoverished area in Bhubaneshwar for an all-expenses-paid two-month training programme.