Football Indian Super League

Indian Arrows boost for U-17 players in ISL

Lalengmawia (NEUFC), Aniket Jadhav (Jamshedpur
FC), K P Rahul, Jeakson Singh (Kerala Blasters FC), Rahim Ali (Chennaiyin FC) are the other U-17 World Cuppers from the 2017 batch who came to the fore.

By Nandakumar Marar

MUMBAI: Suresh Wangjam picked up the Man of Match award in Bengaluru
FC’s hard-earned 1-0 win over last season’s finalist, Chennaiyin FC,
in ISL 2020 currently on in Goa. The 20-year-old from Manipur also
earned a pat on the back from the coaching staff for tireless running
and tenacity as a box-to-box defensive midfielder. Three years after
wearing India colours at FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017, appearance in the
awards list and playing time in an established line-up under chief
coach Carles Cuadrat is indication of the hard-working teenager’s
emergence as a serious talent.

BFC recruited him in 2019 after I-League exposure with Indian Arrows,
a developmental team formed by All India Football Federation (AIFF) to
give talented young players a taste of professional football. Other
U-17 World Cuppers from the 2017 batch getting playing time alongside
senior India internationals and foreigners are also getting noticed.
Lalengmawia (North East United FC) wore the captain’s armband in an
ISL game this season, named the MoM also. Aniket Jadhav (Jamshedpur
FC), K P Rahul, Jeakson Singh (Kerala Blasters FC), Rahim Ali
(Chennaiyin FC) got their names on the ISL scoresheet, scoring goals
in style.

Among those watching these teenagers in action is Kushal Das,
Secretary of the All India Football Federation, far away in Delhi.
“These players have come through a system from a very early age.
Suresh, Lalengmawia, Aniket, Rahul, Jeakson, Rahim were among U-17
probables for three years, benefitted from coaching support and
travelled on many exposure tours as part of World Cup preparations.
They developed faster, adjustment to ISL was smooth,” he said, in a
chat on telephone. “Even a Sunil Chhetri will agree that he would have
loved to get such support at a young age.”

Foreign coaches, Nicholai Adam from Germany and Luis Matos from
Portugal, contracted to take charge of the preparations for World Cup
2017 at different stages, shortlisted age group talent and worked on
in their game. The AIFF and Sports Ministry teamed up to organise
camps and exposure tours to Europe and South America. The probables
returned, confident of holding their own against foreign squads. “They
became fearless after the trips, not just football-wise, but even
managing and travelling on their own in foreign countries,” observes
ex-international Abhishek Yadav, designated as Director, National

He adds: “Some of them faced the language barrier on tour, but it did
not curb their confidence facing foreign teams in places most had not
travelled before. It was a personality change. The other effect was
the change in their approach to football after becoming aware of diet
and nutrition.” The Chief Operations Officer, India U-17 team, Yadav
was also involved with the Arrows project. “From the time these World
Cuppers and others shortlisted but did not make the final squad, the
group had been together for years”

Yadav pointed out: “For those passing out from Arrows, the extent of
match experience gained is tremendous, if you look at I-League games
they played, plus practise games arranged by the federation. Suresh
Singh is showing the maturity of a 25-year-old at 20, the way he
carries the ball and moves around on the pitch in ISL. By the time
they are 24 or 25, they will make an impact on the India senior team.”
Kushal Das explains: “We were very clear that after the World Cup, a
platform to play is a must so that these players don’t get lost in the
system. Initially, all the World Cuppers were included in Arrows. a
few players from other age groups were added.”

Asked about the message to I-League and ISL clubs after seeing young
recruits perform alongside the pros, the AIFF Secretary said: “We
demonstrated to the clubs that if there is programme to develop own
players, there is considerable saving of money via transfer fees. I am
happy to note that clubs are investing in players’ development. There
is interest among bigger clubs in the whole Indian Arrows project. The
current bunch is a completely new batch. By the time I-League season
2021 ends, more youngsters will have joined clubs.”

Jamshedpur FC chief coach, Owen Coyle, praised Aniket’s speed and
skill with the ball in a 1-0 win over NEUFC. The striker from
Maharashtra, on another occasion, sizzled in a long slalom from inside
his own half, twisting past defenders to reach the rival goalmouth for
a crack at target. Gerard Nus, the NEUFC head coach, has faith in
young Laremgmawia’s ability to control the game as a defensive
midfielder. Rahul’s goal for KBFC was spectacular, hammering the ball
high into the net off a breakaway move starting at the other end when
a corner kick was cleared. Jeakson scored with a glancing header,
Rahim timed his run into the goalmouth to connect first time.

Yadav is clear that Arrows players are signed up to add value on the
pitch. “When the clubs make inquiries about a specific player, we put
him in touch with the club management or technical staff, in case the
chief coach is away. The chief coach wants a player because he fits
into the team plans and can make an impact if given first-team chance,
so it is better for the Arrows player to know what is expected from
him. I-league and ISL is a career move, breaking into the Indian
seniors is most important”

The ex-international points out that national senior coach Igor Stimac
will also call only those players who can adjust to his vision for the
squad. “Stimac is focussed on team performance and ruthless about
player selection. Players from Indian Arrows in national camps is
happening. There is no miracle involved here, only the result of
long-term plan with support from everyone involved.”