SPORTS

Canadian forward rises to the top in surprising stint in Indian Super League

01/18/2015 11:55 EST | Updated 03/20/2015 05:59 EDT
Iain Hume's soccer resume was pretty complete already, but being named best player in a country of 1.2 billion adds a nice bow to it.

The 31-year-old Canadian international forward, currently in camp with the national team in Florida, is coming off a productive and unexpected season with Kerala Blasters FC that saw him named best player in the Hero Indian Super League

While rival teams boasted marquee players like Alessandro Del Piero, Nicolas Anelka, Robert Pires, David Trezeguet, Fredrik Ljungberg, Luis Garcia, Marco Materazzi, Mikael Sylvestre, Eric Djemba-Djemba and Jermaine Pennant, the lone big name on Kerala's squad was former England goalie David James, who doubled as player-manager.

Kerala made it all the way to the Dec. 20 league final despite low expectations

"We were one of the favourites to finish last," Hume said.

Hume, in his first Canadian camp since a 3-0 friendly loss to Australia in London in September 2013, played 45 minutes in Friday's 2-1 loss to Iceland. The two teams meet again Monday in Orlando.

Kerala finished fourth in the nine-team league with a 5-5-4 record but reached the inaugural final by defeating league-leading Chennaiyin FC 6-1 on aggregate in the two-game semifinal.

Kerala held Atletico de Kolkata scoreless in the final, only to lose 1-0 on a stoppage-time goal. A disappointing finale but still a "massive achievement" for a club with one of the lowest payrolls in the league, according to Hume.

"If we'd been offered getting to the finals and losing in the 94th minute, I think everyone would have taken that with open arms," Hume said. "We exceeded a lot of people's expectations, including ourselves."

The final was watched by 57 million TV viewers with Hume awarded his individual trophy after the match.

"With the players that were in that league and to be a Canadian lad who's not played on the world stage, to get that award was a brilliant achievement for myself and something I'll look back on as one of the highlights of my career," Hume said.

Hume arrived in mid-September for the Indian league's inaugural season, which ran October through December.

Located in southwest India, Kerala is known for its natural beauty and spices. Sadly Hume did not have much time to explore, with games almost every three days.

But he speaks warmly about the Kerala fans. The smallest home crowd was 40,000 and he played before more than 75,000 in the home leg of the semifinal.

"They're football-mad," he said.

In pre-season, Hume says the team could walk through a local mall without drawing attention. By the end, they couldn't set foot there without being surrounded.

One of the highlights of his time in India was being able to meet legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, part-owner of the Kerala franchise.

"The best thing about him is how humble he is as a person. He'll sit down and talk with you, and talk sports, talk family, talk everything," said Hume.

He also paid tribute to the managerial and playing skills of the 44-year-old James.

Talks are underway to bring Hume back next season, when the campaign will be extended a month.

"I really really enjoyed myself out there, as most of the people who went out there did. So it's definitely something I'll think twice about."

If he returns, he hopes to bring his wife and two daughters, aged four and 11, with him this time. The initial offer to play in India came out of the blue and at the last minute, so it was not feasible to uproot his family.

While he went to India with an open mind, he says the level of football there was "better than I expected." Some of the Indian players had excellent technique and were physically on par.

"Tactically they were a little behind," he added.

India is trying to remedy that, looking to improve grassroots coaching, he said.

Standard of play in the pro league improved every week, he said.

Out of contract for the first time in 15 years, he had hoped to continue his career in the United Kingdom. But the offers he got were either unsatisfactory or too far away from the family home in northwest England.

Then suddenly he ended up on the other side of the world.

"I sat down and talked to my wife about it and talked to my family. And it was the right time," he said. "It was an opportunity I'd never have put in front of me. And it was only for three and a half months."

He first heard of the Indian League from a freelance journalist who passed on a contact. Hume gave the number to his agent, not thinking anything would come from it, and within two weeks he had been drafted by Kerala.

"Just everything thrown at me at once. I'm not normally one to go so unorganized or so off the cuff but I'm over the moon I did."

Born in Edinburgh to Scottish parents, Hume was raised in Canada and soon was making soccer waves back in the U.K.

He worked his way through the youth ranks at Tranmere Rovers, becoming the English club's youngest ever debutante at 16 years 167 days in an April 2000 game against Swindon.

In 2003, he helped lead Canada on a fairy-tale run to the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates where he, along with midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, was named to the tournament all-star team.

A 500,000-pound (C$900,000) move took him to Leicester City in 2005 before stops in Barnsley and Preston North End and loan spells with Doncaster Rovers and Fleetwood Town.

Just five foot seven, Hume has always been a bundle of energy on the field. His patriotism has also been plain to see, via the Maple Leaf occasionally dyed into his hair in past years.

Hume made headlines for painful reasons playing for Barnsley in November 8, 2008, when Hume, caught by an elbow from Sheffield United's Chris Morgan as both went for a high ball, suffered a fractured skull with severe complications. There was a long recovery period, leaving Hume with a wicked horseshoe-shaped scar from his left ear to the front of his forehead.

Hume's time with the Canadian team has been limited in recent years. He attribute that to an influx of new talent and the difficulties of playing in lower-tier leagues where teams don't get international breaks.

"Teams and squads get picked and if I'm not there, I'm disappointed but understanding. And I'm just looking forward to the next one. ... I'm happy to be involved, I'm happy to get another chance."

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