Saturday, June 13, 2015

Katsumi Yusa: Completely Reversing the Indian Immigration Story

It’s been a cliché for the past 50 years. An Indian moves from a small town to the United States or United Kingdom, starts at the bottom of the corporate or business ladder and, after a certain point in time, makes it rich through hard work and self-belief.  So many Indians have taken this route, including my Father and Mother, as it is clearly a viable way to jump into a different socioeconomic stratosphere, probably much faster than if they would have stayed in India and put in the same amount of effort.

The story is now reversing. It’s commonly known that over the past 5 years, some foreigners have chosen to move to India for opportunities in the areas of Information Technology, e-commerce and a whole host of entrepreneurial ventures.  Some have made lots of money, much more than they would have back in their own countries and others have left frustrated with the country’s many bureaucratic, infrastructure and human resource challenges. 

Now there is a story that no one could have ever imagined, at least not in the year 2015. It’s a story of a Japanese footballer who rose up into a new socioeconomic stratosphere in India through hard work and self belief.

In 2010 Katsumi Yusa, far from his home in Japan, was toiling around in Paraguay making only $200 a month in the country’s second division football league.  At that time, his professional present and his future both seemed quite bleak. Then in 2011, through his agent and Libero Sports, he was offered an opportunity to go on trial with I-League 1st division club ONGC.  After watching Katsumi for 4 days, ONGC chose to sign him to a contract, but at a very small salary package as, at that time, he was an unproven player.    

In Yusa’s first season in India with ONGC, he scored only 1 goal and his club was relegated to the 2nd division.  He stuck around with ONGC for the next season scoring 7 goals and helping his club earn a spot back into the I-League 1st division.  One of his 7 goals happened to be against Indian giant East Bengal in the Federation Cup, a goal and subsequent celebration that caught the eye of East Bengal arch rivals Mohun Bagan AC, the club which chose to take a chance by signing the versatile Japanese midfielder in 2013.

Over the past 2 seasons with Mohun Bagan AC, Yusa has not only scored a number of key goals and assists, he has quickly become a fan favorite of Mohun Bagan supporters through his big smile, entertaining style of play and signature golden blond hair. The Mariners supporters love him so much that after matches, hordes of fans block his car just to get a close up sight or possibly even touch Yusa’s hand through a crack in the window.

However, the highlight of Yusa’s India story has taken place only over the past 2 weeks. On 31 May, Mohun Bagan AC drew with Bengaluru FC 1-1 securing the 2014/15 Hero I-League National Title, the club’s first national title in 12 years. Then just over a week later, Mohun Bagan extended Yusa’s contract for 2 years making him one of the highest paid players in the I-League. Now the guy who was only making $2,400 a year in South America will be earning an annual salary of well into six figures in India. 

I had the opportunity to spend time with Katsumi in Delhi over the past week. I can honestly say that, in spite of all his newly found fame and fortune, he is one of the most grounded and humble people I’ve ever met, completely full of gratitude. 

On his last day in India before his flight to Japan, I took Yusa to visit the My Angels Academy slum program in Vikaspuri, Delhi. It was so inspiring to hear him share his story with the Angels, and I love the fact that he continued to emphasize the importance of believing in yourself, never giving up and, most importantly, staying true to your heart, ways of being which can lead to success in all areas of life. I hope that Katsumi Yusa’s story will inspire more hard working professionals to enter and earn their way up through the, sometimes unforgiving, Indian football ecosystem. 

Yusa receiving the Man of the Match award after beating East Bengal

Yusa with my Brother Paras in Delhi after Yusa goal beat East Bengal in the Federation Cup - it was my brother's first ever football match in India 

Thousands of Mohun Bagan supporters celebrating the Mariners national title

My Angels Academy founder and Big Brother Sylvester explaining the program to Yusa

Me, my colleague Nula and Yusa with the Angels

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