BENGALURU: It’s fair to say that the Arrows project by the All Indian Football Federation (AIFF) has been hit and miss.
It did produce India players after being introduced in 2010. But it hasn’t yet completely delivered on its promises after the AIFF revived the project post the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017.
The plan was to give the U-17 squad game-time in the I-League and keep the team together so that they could prepare for the FIFA U-20 World Cup qualifiers.
In two years, most of the players who were part of the U-17 World Cup have left Arrows for other clubs. Only five made it to the AFC U-19 Championship qualifiers squad.
In the current season, only two of them are part of Arrows. And the result? India lost all their AFC U-19 qualifier ties last month without scoring a goal. Their best in the I-League has been eighth last season.
Those results ended Arrows and India U-19 coach Floyd Pinto’s tenure. AIFF replaced him with senior team assistant coach Shanmugam Venkatesh only a week before Arrows’ first I-League match this term. The lack of preparation was visible in the match against Gokulam Kerala as they lost 0-1.
The former India captain’s first task will be to form a unit that can challenge experienced teams. More importantly, the Arrows need to be a supply unit to the senior national team. India coach Igor Stimac and former captain Bhaichung Bhutia both voiced their concerns about the lack of back-up defenders and strikers.
Venkatesh, having assisted former coach Stephen Constantine and Stimac, doesn’t lack the experience and is aiming to walk on the same path.
“My vision is to develop players. Being a part of this team, they will get to play 20 competitive matches and by the end of the season, I’m sure they will improve significantly. The goal is to prepare future players for the senior national team and I-League provides the perfect platform,” Venkatesh said.
With the new bunch of players, Venkatesh doesn’t want to think about the India U-19 matches yet. “There is no better motivation than winning. But first and foremost, the objective is to play quality football and putting together a competitive side. But as most of the players are at a developing stage and aren’t physically strong, we have to work on our plus points which are stamina and technical abilities,” he signed off.