Young foot­ballers


A team which ex­isted for only a few years nur­tured ju­nior tal­ent and tried to help

them tran­si­tion to the pro­fes­sional world

young play­ers and the pres­sure of the re­sult is also im­por­tant for them to build their re­silience and de­ci­sion mak­ing,” says Pa­pas.

In its fi­nal season in 2012-13, the team fin­ished above the drop zone in 12th place out of 14.

What had stood out through the three sea­sons was that the team had no for­eign­ers— this was a time when African im­ports were hog­ging start­ing XI places in most teams.

“The Ar­rows gave these boys 26-30 com­pet­i­tive matches against good op­po­si­tion in a season, which is what helps a player the most,” says Tamhane.

Cur­rent In­dian skip­per Gur­preet Singh Sandhu, who was part of the East Ben­gal squad at the time, was loaned to the Ar­rows dur­ing their de­but season.

“I moved to the Ar­rows since all play­ers were more or less from the same batch. That age is im­por­tant for foot­ballers and they must get to play as much as pos­si­ble. Dur­ing that season, I was the first player to get a call to the na­tional side for the Asian Cup,” says Sandhu.

Re­sults didn’t mat­ter much, since it had been de­cided the team wouldn’t be rel­e­gated for the first three sea­sons. The suc­cess of the Ar­rows can be gauged from the num­ber of play­ers who made it to the na­tional side— Sandhu, Jeje, Pri­tam Ko­tal, Dhan­pal Ganesh and Halicha­ran Narzary, to name a few.

“Many of the Ar­rows play­ers are now reg­u­lar se­nior in­ter­na­tion­als. That’s not only due to my work, but the over­all con­cept that was es­tab­lished by Aiff, and the other coaches who played their part,” says Pa­pas.

Then, just like that, the club shut shop after three sea­sons. Aiff said it had been dis­banded ow­ing to a fund-crunch; the Pailan Group had with­drawn sup­port. Iron­i­cally, this hap­pened even though Img-re­liance had signed a Rs700 crore deal with Aiff, in 2010, for in­vest­ment in In­dian foot­ball over 15 years.

Rob Baan, who was ap­pointed tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor by Aiff in 2011, be­lieves the team lost its way off the pitch.

“I can only speak from the time Pa­pas was ap­pointed coach. He did a fan­tas­tic job with the play­ers, but the own­ers wanted the team to be able to com­pete with the top teams, which was to­tally in con­tra­dic­tion to the de­vel­op­ment phi­los­o­phy. Young play­ers must be given time to adapt to in­tense train­ing ses­sions and new tac­tics, for in­stance. The team was mainly for the de­vel­op­ment of these in­di­vid­u­als, who could eas­ily join an I-league club after two years,” Baan says.

The Aiff has plans on field­ing a de­vel­op­men­tal side, sim­i­lar to the Ar­rows, in the I-league once again this season after all these years. A few of the boys from the U-17 World Cup team will be con­sid­ered for this team, in ad­di­tion to play­ers from other age groups.

The Aiff’s U-19 Elite Academy, which was started in 2013, is also a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion for those who show prom­ise. A few clubs too are in­vest­ing in youth, and play­ers could be ab­sorbed there.

And if In­dia’s 2019 U-20 World Cup bid goes through, it will give young­sters fur­ther ex­po­sure, help­ing them ease into foot­ball at the se­nior level.

Over the years, Bengaluru FC have, for in­stance, tapped play­ers such as Daniel Lalh­limpuia and Nishu Ku­mar, who came from Aiff’s Goa-based academy. In ad­di­tion, they’ve started a res­i­den­tial academy at Bel­lary for U-15 and U-18 play­ers.

“This is an in­vest­ment worth the time, ef­fort and money, even know­ing that all play­ers may not make the cut. Even if a few play­ers go on to rep­re­sent the first team each year, it’s a mas­sive achieve­ment which bal­ances the in­vest­ment. The in­tent should be to give good in­fra­struc­ture and tech­ni­cal sup­port to these youth pro­grammes in or­der to reap its ben­e­fits in the long run,” says Tamhane, now the chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer at Bengaluru.

“What Aiff did in set­ting up the Ar­rows should be the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ev­ery club—to fur­ther nur­ture the boys grad­u­at­ing from their academies by form­ing a re­serve or ‘B’ team,” he adds. “Aiff can con­sti­tute a league which will al­low these play­ers to get com­pet­i­tive games.”

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(top) Pri­tam Ko­tal (left) of Pailan Ar­rows and Mum­bai FC’S Ha­roon Fakhrud­din Amiri (No.18) bat­tling for the ball dur­ing an I-league match in Kolkata in 2012; and Jeje Lalpekhlua (left) and Goura­mangi Singh at the play­ers’ draft of the Hero In­dian Su­per...

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