To those who’re unfamiliar with Indian football, the AIFF have formed a club that plays in the I-League called the Pailan Arrows. They play and train in Kolkata, and comprise the core of the Indian U23 football team with an aim of playing the FIFA World Cup in 2018.
In its first season, the Pailan Arrows(Then Indian Arrows) were anything but a failure. In their second season, they have turned out to be anything but a success. Players in the 2010-11 season are now creating waves in Indian football, but current players aren’t even able to create so much as a ripple. Some people are blaming the players, while others are blaming the federation and the support staff. Actually, it may be the fault of none. The fact that these are mostly two different sets of players is the key feature that may have been overlooked. Different players have different ways of playing, ways of being coached and moreover different attitudes. Basically, the way the previous bunch were managed may not be suited to the current batch. A few thoughts on where the format of the team must be tweaked and how are given below.
Bring in a foreign youth expert.
The age old argument of whether an Indian or a foreigner of repute must be in charge of the Indian national side extends to the Arrows side as well. After all the the core of future Indian sides is likely to be comprised of this bunch of players. A foreign youth expert with a methodology matching to the senior national coach’s one is a must as it will help a player to adapt in the national side.
The AIFF took a step in the right direction when they hired Des Bulpin, a British coach with a bundle of experience in managing youth sides of big clubs such as Tottenham, QPR and even the very successful Uzbekistan U17 side. However, this was much ado about nothing as he was fired after just a season in charge. One may argue the fact that he emphasised the long ball style of play which doesn’t suit India, but the fact of the matter is that the Arrows finished a creditable 9th in the I-League table under him.
The AIFF replaced him with Mr. Sukhwinder Singh, who incidentally emphasised the kick and rush style of play too, so the argument of the federation bringing about a change in management in trying to eliminate the long ball mentality is moot. Whatever the case may be, the current performance of the team is less than encouraging, with them failing to have secured a single win in the current edition of the Indian top-tier. A coach with experience in some of the top youth leagues of the world, with an eye to spot talent and a style of play that complements the players is a must for the team to achieve their objectives in the next season.
Play in a foreign league.
To those unfamiliar with the developments in Asian football, this may seem like a far fetched idea. However, as part of an agreement between the Malaysian and Singapore footballing authorities the Malaysian U23 side (Harimau Muda A) will play in the S-League while their Singaporean counter-parts (Young Lions FC) will play in the MSL. The AIFF too could enter into a co-operation agreement of this kind with a foreign association and we could see our boys slogging it out on foreign soil.
The justification behind this would be very simple. Our players need international exposure. The reason behind the organising of foreign tours by any country is to provide exposure to its players. Playing in a foreign league would provide plenty of this.
Besides, it would provide out-performers an opportunity to play in a reputed international club, something which every Indian footballer dreams of. The Indian senior players always seem to be overwhelmed while taking part in internationals, therefore, playing in a foreign league could definitely solve this problem.
Clarify the sides objectives.
The first step towards success is to clarify the objectives of the organisation. In this case, we are talking about a football club. The Arrow’s objectives in the recent past seem to be completely mixed up. Normally a team can have multiple objectives, but they must be cohesive. The Arrow’s multiple objectives seem to be :
1. Formation of a team that will qualify for the 2018 World Cup, by involving the best young players in a country.
2. Giving adequate playing time to youngsters.
3. Reviving Punjabi football, and maintaining an adequate supply line of youngsters from Punjab.
It is quite evident that the teams priorities are mixed up.
If the first were a priority, the big question mark would be as to why players like Jeje Lalpekhlua, Lalrindika Ralte, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Manandeep Singh and Jewel Raja Shaikh were allowed to transfer to different clubs. Also, a question would be as to why players like Singam Subhash Singh, Sandesh Gadkari, Gilbert Oliveira, Shahinlal Meloly, Manish Bhargav and Soumelein Doungel were ignored as they have definitely shown the potential to be the best in the country.
With the team placed 13th out of 14 teams in the I-league without a single win, a definite change is required in the way the clubs affairs are handled. The AIFF and the Pailan group need to do some serious re-thinking if the Arrows are to be a force to reckon with. After all, it is a vital situation regarding the state of Indian football.