“Due to major financial and infrastructural problems, the AIFF had no option but to disband the Pailan Arrows.” This press statement released in August 2013 was the shut down of a highly hyped measure in Indian football, that was expected to earn the nation a berth in the FIFA World Cup 2018.
It was in 2010, the then Indian national team coach Bob Houghton felt the need to get the U-19 and U-23 players, some game time in I-League. This made the All India Football Federation (AIFF) draft a new team in the name of AIFF XI (later renamed as Indian Arrows). The good support from AIFF at the initial stages made sure that the team participated in I-League 2010-11 season.
However, the federation found it difficult to fund the club and finally joined hands with the Pailan Group, on an agreement that the team would be renamed as Pailan Arrows.
On 29 August 2013, Pailan Arrows was officially disbanded following a press release, stating Pailan Group's inability to meet the fund requirements of the team. A number of reasons can be pointed out to the short life of Arrows.
From the lack of interest by authorities to inconsistent performances, things rarely went on track for the developmental squad. Four managers occupying the hot seat across three seasons showed how difficult the job was. Shortening, the first attempt of Indian Arrows (Pailan Arrows) failed in meeting its objectives.
Indian Arrows (2017)
Indian Super League was a much-needed invigoration for football in India. When the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017 came along with this, the players of India's U-17 World Cup team became local heroes. With an aim to offer playing time to these players and keep them training together, the big 'Indian Arrows' project was reestablished in November 2017-18.
The team began its operations under the same head coach of the U-17 National Team - Luis Norton de Matos. Arrows finished the season last on the points table with 4 wins. But, a lot of praise was received for the maturity showcased by the team that had no foreign recruits. In August 2018, the manager stepped down from his position owing to various personal reasons. A coach under whom the kids showed good hopes and future left the seat.
After the Portuguese man left the spot, it was Indian coach Floyd Pinto who was assigned the duties. The team began its campaign under the former IT Engineer this season and has so far won two games from their eight outings.
With seven points, the team is ninth on the points table. An alarming move about the team prior to the season was its sponsorship. In a similar situation to that of 2011, AIFF has relied on sponsors - the Odisha State Government this time.
Indian Arrows currently plays under the Odisha Government, which has agreed on a 5-year deal with AIFF. Something that still keeps many on their toes is whether someone would put in funds for a team, which doesn't get many favourable results.
For a team with development goals, wins cannot be set criteria and if the government ever pulls out on the deal, will Indian Arrows go on the very exact path of its predecessor Pailan Arrows? Will AIFF support on its own to keep the side alive?
Indian Arrows Players
In the 2018-19 season too, Arrows has included only the U-17 or U-19 players. A positive note on the future of these players is that 9 out of the 27 players in the squad are part of some ISL club and are with Arrows on a loan deal. This would be a temporary guarantee on the future of these players, who have the option to move back to their respective clubs, once done with the training phase.
The players are receiving time on the field in national colours too. 20 out of 28 players who were part of the U-20 squad for the COTIF Cup earlier this year came from the Indian Arrows camp. Playing under the same coach both at club and country is a beneficiary factor the youngsters are enjoying at the camps.
The two seasons of Arrows have seen a lot of individual brilliance. There are a number of players who have grabbed attention from the top clubs in the country. Apart from the players who have already signed with clubs, many shining players currently this season are sure to keep clubs waiting.
Rahul KP, Vikram Pratam Singh and Amarjit Singh have all played with extreme maturity and experience beyond their years. Indian Arrows is showing good hopes of Indian football going a lot forward on these shoulders.
Pinto is the team's second coach after Luis Norton. The Mumbai-born Pinto was earlier part of the coaching staff as an assistant to Norton, before getting promoted as the head. Whilst having an Indian coach would help in better communication and understanding for the players, doubt still remains on the success of the experiment. For a team, that cannot be measured by the number of points, a comparison between two coaches would be difficult.
Having an experienced foreign coach might give the players a bit of technical know-how, which domestic coaches might be difficult to find. Indian staff should be included to identify and pick out the talented kids, but the more complex duties might have to be assigned to experienced personnel, for a better success rate.
But still, it has to be seen whether Floyd Pinto can overcome all the challenges on his path and take his side to an attention grabbing finish in the league.
What the Future Holds
Indian Arrows was restructured to give playing time for the U-17 World Cup and U-19 squads. It is obvious that the players would soon move out of the team and join other clubs.
When such a move remains inevitable for the complete development of players, the Arrows squad should not slump with it. Young players making it to the junior level teams should be made part of the I-League by this project.
The mission, if executed well, can be a game-changer for football in India. A team run by the federation will have to face fund issues, which can be threatening to the team's existence, like before.
Every football fan hopes to see the Indian Arrows project succeed and not end up like the Pailan Arrows. If these obstacles are overcome and AIFF continues its support, the 2026 World Cup dream will be coming closer.Published 22 Dec 2018, 10:22 IST