AFC U-23 Championship Qualifiers: Indian Football gets younger

National team players at the India U-23 camp in Goa
National team players at the India U-23 camp in Goa

Sixteen-year-old Rohit Danu, the Indian Arrows striker, brings out the mother in all the other players. From a distance, he looks like a kid. When he comes closer, he looks more like a kid. And when he talks, you can figure out that he is actually a kid.

“No. I am not a kid,” Danu shakes his head. Boris Singh, standing nearby, puts his hand on his shoulder. Danu smiles again. “No. I am not a kid.”

The average age of the probables in the ongoing India U-23 National Team Camp in Goa is 19 years and 4 months, with Danu being the youngest. Indian Football has grown young.

“I understand this is a U-23 Camp for the Indian National Team. Some of the seniors have already played for India, even in the Asian Cup. This is the best moment of my life,” Danu narrates. “But I am not a kid,” he reiterates. “I watch the seniors on TV play for India regularly. I need to pinch myself to believe that I am here.”

Head Coach Derrick Pereira, a former India International leans back on his chair, and smiles. “We have to look at younger players. We need to look at the future. This camp will help them believe they can make it to the top level,” he mentions in reference to the players from Indian Arrows in the Camp.

There are 9 boys from the Indian Arrows who have been summoned to the Camp. Eight of the probables have played in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, all of them have been part of the AIFF Youth Development set-up.

You glance through the list and discover that there are 19 boys in the camp who have been products of the AIFF Youth Development Project some time or the other.

“We always kept a tab on the Indian Arrows. They have made a mark, scored goals, won hearts. They deserve the call up,” Pereira adds.

At a distance, you spot Danu and Amarjit Singh flipping through the pages of a magazine.

“We have struggled a lot, and made a lot of sacrifices in our lives. At an age where all other kids are pampered, we have stayed away from our parents,” Amarjit, who captained India in the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017, murmurs. “The journey in Arrows has made us stronger. We have stood by each other all throughout,” he stresses.

Assistant Coach Shanmugam Venkatesh, a former Indian National Team Captain glances at the road outside. “There was a football jam the day we returned winning the Federation Cup for Salgaocar FC,” his eyes lit up. “As we were paraded, all I could see was hoardes of heads. Goa had come to a standstill,” he recollects.

“But Indian Football has moved a long way forward. The emphasis on youth is one of the most positive traits. The modern day game demands energy, fitness, strength.”

Amarjit maintains “playing in the U-17 World Cup was a dream for all of us.”

“But we cannot rest on that laurel. The target is now to move to the senior National side. It doesn’t matter to me whether I get selected into the final 23 or not. Getting a call up is a big thing for me,” he states. “Training with senior team players will make me stronger as a player. I get to work with the senior team staff.” Danu nods.

At the training session, Danu does a dummy to catch his marker unaware. As his marker recovers and chases, you couldn’t miss that unmistakable stance, soaked both in amazement and appreciation for the ‘kid.’

Indian Football is getting younger.

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Edited by AIFF Media
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