By Sudipto Ganguly
MUMBAI, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Former Newcastle United striker Michael Chopra is ready to surrender his British passport to represent the country of his origin, India, and realise his dream of playing senior-level international soccer.
The 30-year-old Chopra, whose grandparents moved to England from Jalandhar in Punjab in the 1950s, has represented England at the age-group tournaments.
He was approached by the All India Football Federation in the past to play for the national team but things did not work out.
Chopra qualifies to play for India due to his parentage as per FIFA rules but government regulations in India allow only a person holding a valid passport to represent the national team.
"I was going to play for them four years ago. But at that time I was only 26 and I was too young to give up my British passport and travel around the world at that age," Chopra told Reuters in an interview.
"I just had a little boy that was born and things like that, so it would have been difficult. My boy is six now and he has grown up and understands what his dad has got to do.
"So I plan to move to India and give up my British citizenship and get an Indian passport to play for the national team and take them forward."
Chopra, who has also played for a host of other Premier League clubs, was last month picked by the Kerala Blasters, co-owned by cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar, for the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL).
The eight-franchise ISL will run from Oct. 12 to Dec. 20 in its inaugural edition but Chopra sees a future for himself beyond that in India's national league (I-League).
"That's my plan. I have spoken to my agency about my future about what I will be doing after the ISL. The prospect of playing in the I-League excites me as well," Chopra, who also has plans to open academies in India, said.
"And also to play for the national team as well. Hopefully things come along and I can do all three.
"I have never been to India before so everybody is very excited. I have family over in India and everybody is texting me and calling me asking when I am coming over.
"If my grandparents were alive now, the smile on their faces would have been special. They always supported my playing football in England so for me to go back to India and play football over there would have been special for them."
Cricket-obsessed India languishes at 150th in the world rankings, a state of affairs that has prompted FIFA president Sepp Blatter to dub the country of 1.2 billion the 'sleeping giant' of world soccer.
Chopra, who has also played in Champions League for Newcastle, is aware of soccer's ground realities in India and is confident he can easily adjust.
"The Indian team has got some good players. If I can help them raise their profile and make them a better team - that's my aim," Chopra said.
"Obviously it will be nice to play international football and play against teams I have never played against. It will be good for my career."
The ISL has attracted some of the familiar names in world soccer and Chopra believes the league will change the face of the game in India.
"Everybody talks about cricket in India but I am pleased with the positive reports of the first edition of the ISL and hopefully I can boost it further," he said.
"There are some real class players that will play the tournament and maybe more players will join next year.
"And once the league starts I think there will be lot more kids wanting to play football rather than cricket." (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)