The Indian Arrows comprising of U-17 and U-19 National Team players — a project being groomed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) gave the senior I-League clubs a run for their money in the I-League.
A day after the youngsters finished their campaign, former India captain Abhishek Yadav, currently the Director of National Teams spoke at length about the importance of the project, the learning aspects, the team’s development and much more.
How important was playing in the I-League for the Indian U-17 World Cup Team?
It was essential the momentum sustained in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup campaign continued. The learning curve for this lot has been steep in the last few years and we needed a plan that will sustain their growth without a break.
The situation demanded that the players needed to be thrown at the deep end but not in a reckless manner. The I-League fit well into this with its structured and season-long format. We see the I-League as a bridge for these players to cross over into the senior football territory.
Was it difficult for the young Arrows to cope to the competitive environment of the I-League?
Not at all! The Indian Arrows kicked-off off with a win and in fact, some teams found it difficult to cope with the fitness and intensity of the Arrows.
How did the I-League help in the team’s development?
The I-League gave 18 high-intensity matches to the team. This means real playing time for nearly two dozen players. This happened over three months in a focused environment with a complete support staff headed by an experienced head coach. Also, the matches were televised and crowds turned up in support of the Arrows. It was important for the players to know that fans have expectations from them and that brought out the best.
What did the players learn?
The players have learnt what the senior level of Club football with foreign players demands from them. The players have now settled into a style of play and understand each other better which should be of help in the future. If the matches are analysed, we realise that it was only momentary lapses in many games that resulted in conceding goals. The biggest learning was that you need to stay absolutely focused till the final whistle.