Indian football, in its quest to move forward together, always prioritises on age-group teams and youth football. Especially when it comes to Indian Arrows, the crème de la crème of yesteryear’s heroes of Indian Football are deployed to train these promising youngsters to make them game-ready.
Akash Mishra, one of the former lynchpins of Indian Arrows from last season, has been in the news recently for his on-field exploits with Hyderabad FC during the ongoing Hero Indian Super League 2020-21. The talented full-back rated Arrows assistant coach Mahesh Gawli, under whom he had trained till last season, as his “favourite defender”, although he didn’t see him play during his prime.
“Before joining Indian Arrows and seeing Mahesh-Sir, I heard a lot about him. But when I saw him during training sessions, I realised why he is being respected so much. When I joined the AIFF Academy, I did not have much idea about a defender’s role. But, he taught me everything about defending. I have learnt A-B-C of defending from Mahesh-Sir,” Mishra was all praises for his former coach during a candid chat on AIFF TV.
Mahesh Gawli, who was adjudged to be the best defender of Hero I-League for five consecutive seasons, is the deputy of Shanmugam Venkatesh at Indian Arrows and the former Blue Tigers’ defender is someone who everyone always looks up to. Indian Football always put paramount importance on honing the young talents and that is why the former Blue Tigers defender was brought in.
“He was our coach but at the training sessions, his touches, control was better than every one of us. Something that we would often struggle with, he would be able to do with either foot – simply amazing,” Akash continued. “I have spoken to other defenders also but his outlook is completely different.”
“What’s more important is he shares his own experience. I have not seen him playing during his heydays but I have seen old match footages. Getting coached by him and playing with him at the training sessions is something which I’ll cherish all my life.”
He further elaborated how Shanmugam Venkatesh, head coach, Indian Arrows, played him at different positions which, in turn, helped him “improve game by game”.
“Last season, Venky-sir played me at different positions like right-back and left-back. As the coach, he had confidence in me and I tried to repay it. If your coach thinks you will pull off playing at different positions, it builds your character and makes you improve game by game,” the Hyderabad FC defender accounted.
“In a league, you get to rub shoulders with foreigners and you gain experience from that. Playing games week in, week out makes you a better player gradually.”
Akash further recalled his journey which had faced a few roadblocks earlier but how the-then coach Floyd Pinto banked on his abilities, which eventually helped him regain his confidence and “push harder on the pitch.”
“My debut for India U-19 National Team was a disaster. We travelled to Croatia for a four-nation tournament and we were scheduled to face the hosts in our first match. We lost the match by five goals and honestly saying, I had a terrible game that day. I felt my tournament ws all but over!” Akash took a pause.
“Next day, he called me and asked whether I was confident to start in our next match. We were to play against France one day later. I was speechless seeing his trust in me. That helped me regroup myself before the next match and push harder on the pitch.”