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I-League 2017-18 Review - Indian Arrows Teenagers' transition to professional football

AMATEUR to PROFESSIONAL. Indian Arrows arrived amidst a mixed reaction from various sections of the Indian football fraternity.

Hot on the heels of the “success” of hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in October 2017, the team that represented India at her maiden FIFA world event, were announced to be part of the I-League. The boys, all aged 17 years or less would be part of a league competition of 90 matches with players even twice their size and age. Arrows was not a first-time venture on part of the All India Football Federation (AIFF). A developmental side under the name ‘Pailan Arrows’ has featured in the I-League in the past, having last participated in the 2012-13 season. The earlier Arrows side in the I-League comprised of all under-23 boys.

Luis Norton de Matos, the coach appointed to lead the India’s U17 team at the World Cup, was handed the reigns for the Arrows in I-League 2017-18 season.  Along with the U17 boys, a couple of under 19 boys were included in the Arrows’ I-League squad.

Arrows entry in the top flight division of the country, was a transition to have a continued pathway for the boys who were assembled after about two years of national and overseas scouting.

Thumping start

The all-new Arrows first game was at Bambolim Stadium in Goa, one of two stadiums used for their home matches. The result against Chennai City FC was a laudable and satisfying 3-0 victory, including Aniket Jadhav getting a brace. Arrows had stamped their arrival on the national front. All the inhibitions of 17 year olds playing against physically superior players over a period of four months seemed to have vaporised.

I-League 2017-18 Review: Indian Arrows – Teenager’s transition to professional football


A moment of euphoria followed by a deep sense of despair ensued when the team went on to lose the next three games without scoring a single goal. The situation was similar to the FIFA U17 World Cup, when India scored the first ever goal but the joy was short-lived owing to conceding immediately. In those three losses, two were against Minerva Punjab, where Jeakson Singh, Anwar Ali and Nongdamba Naorem were ineligible to play as they were on loan from Minerva. Although, the ineligibility of the three on-loan Minerva Punjab players was legitimate, coach Matos voiced his displeasure by questioning Minerva Punjab’s philosophy.


Two good results saw the Arrows being brought back to life by playing some impressive football. Shillong Lajong, a youth set-up with the addition of some foreigners, is known for some of the best local-grown players faced Arrows. The outcome was one-sided and it was truly a resurgence for the youngest side in the top division of the country. A strong 3-0 win for Matos’ side. Next up was Mohun Bagan away. A terrible loss at Bagan after a confident win over Lajong would mean heartbreak for these young lads. But it would not be the case as Arrows played their lungs and bodies out to win the ovation of the home crowd. 1-1 it ended, in the most dramatic fashion at iconic Mohun Bagan ground. Arrows came back from a goal down and replied in a heroic manner to get level just five minutes after conceding. To add to their woes was seeing their captain Amarjit being sent off with 25 minutes still remaining on the clock. Despite being a man down, AIFF’s development side had put a stand out performance to walk away holding their heads held high after a pleasing display of character.

Arrows’ only other win came in late but in extraordinary style. Churchill Brothers scored early in the game and it looked the game would run away from the Arrows’ team by the chances created by the Red Machines. Until the fourth official indicated time added on in the second half, the score only read one nil, in Churchill’s favour. One inspired substitution, two magical moments and the match was turned on its head to shock the Goan giants. Abhijit Sarkar delivered two exquisite finishes in added time to register Arrows’ fourth victory of the season.

Indian Arrows season review

Final word

In 18 games without a single foreigner, the Indian Arrows gathered 15 points which included four wins and three draws. The mix of national Under 17 and Under 19 boys managed to knock in 13 goals and kept four clean sheets. The idea of the revival of the Arrows project was to ensure the boys did not go without professional-like football time, as a huge investment in terms of scouting, training and preparing has gone behind this team for about two years.

There have been various aspects of the game that Matos has instilled in this team that came about to be noticed, as the season reached its peak. Playing out from the back, became a notable sign of the team’s calmness to deal with in pressure situations. Counter attacks using minimal passes to land in the final third made use of the fitness and agility built in training. Central and wing play were mixed well to break into attacks and the ability to press down their opponents, when not is possession of the ball have been the highlights of the young lads. Some brilliant individual goals like the one Naorem scored against Lajong stole the show and have left a lasting impression on all.

Improvements on finishing in the box was clearly the remedy for lack of goals leading to few unfavourable results. Indian Arrows ended their campaign in the last place in the I-League though with immunity from relegation, it does not matter much but what’s in queue for the further development of these teenagers is unclear at the moment.

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