Indian Arrows: A closer look at their progress

Courtesy: Rudra Nayan Das

Indian Arrows, an ambitious project started by AIFF last year, which aims to keep together and nurture a set of U-21 Indian players, where they will get good facilities, training, nutrition and coaching . The ultimate goal of this is to develop these players so they can qualify for 2018 World cup. The aim of qualifying in world cup, according to many critics, including me is a bit too much to expect, but nevertheless, the intent of developing youth players at a time when the youth setup of Indian football is hugely flawed can be well appreciated. The season is in its final phases, Arrows only have one game left (against Mohun Bagan). It would be worthwhile to look at the improvements (if any) shown by these batch of players. The safest way, for me(seen only one full game and few highlight clips), to do that is by just analyzing the results they got.

Firstly, for the time being let’s forget all past glories they had achieved at junior level, because it is almost a trend now that Indian Juniors perform well before being wasted at senior level, and we have many examples of that which I won’t be discussing here (you are always welcome to chat with me on this issue – details below). The rest of the article only analyzes the i-league results.

Indian Arrows (then called AIFF XI) started their campaign with a 1-2 defeat against Chirag United in Kolkata. Apart from a fantastic goal from Dika (Lalrindika Ralte), there were hardly any positives according to many journalists and coaches. In fact, it was said that Arrows have a very porous defence and they were lucky to concede only twice. This statement was later proven when Arrows started losing by huge margins whenever they met heavyweight clubs in away matches. They suffered embarrassing defeats like 0-4, 0-5, 0-6, 0-3 against East Bengal, Salgaocar, Churchill Brothers and Pune FC respectively. However, their home form was good and they managed few wins and draws to earn few much needed points. By the time 1st half of the season was over, they had already conceded 27 goals (that makes it little over 2 goals per game!). It would have been ok if they had negated the poor defending by getting some goals upfront, however, that wasn’t the case. They were missing sitters after sitters. At the end of 1st half they could only score 9 goals. After those initial 13 matches, they mustered 13 points with 3 wins and 4 draws, with a shocking goal difference of -18.

It was not very surprising for many. Firstly, it was an U-21 team without any foreigners and many of the members are actually U-19. But at the end of the day, when you are competing in i-league and trying to be the best in the country, then such excuses don’t look good. AIFF’s plan was to improve these set of players and that’s what most of us wanted - to see an improved performance.

So, did they improve in the 2nd half of the league?

Well, not if you look at the points – 13 points in 12 games (1 still left), which is almost same as the last half even if they manage a draw or a win against Mohun Bagan in the last game. So, is it that the young guns are not improving? I certainly think they are, even though the results are not saying so, the scorelines certainly say they are improving. The heaviest defeats they have suffered in the 2nd half are 2-5 defeat against Dempo and 1-3 against Salgaocar, certainly better that the kind of defeats they had suffered earlier. This time, for a change, they have embarrassed teams like Air India and HAL by winning 5-2 and 4-0 respectively and that too in away matches. In huge contrast to the first half, this time they conceded 18 (in 12 games) goals as opposed to 27 (in 13 games) and scored 17 times as opposed to 9 in 1st half. The goal difference looks much respectable with -1 as opposed to -18!

What factors might have contributed to this change in fortunes?

Jeje, Indian Arrows, India, Scored 9 Goals so Far in i-League

  • Stumbling upon the scoring boots – As per the reports, it was very clear that even in the first half they were creating enough chances, but somehow the final and most important task of slotting the ball into the net, legally, was not being accomplished! However, in the 2nd half, Jeje, who had scored only once in first half and has already scored 9 goals (8 in 2nd half). In the meantime, he also made his debut for Indian team, scoring 4 times in 3 matches. He was well supported by the support strikers and the midfield. Most importantly, something had happened which made him find back is scoring boots. My own take on this is CONFIDENCE. Getting chances makes players more mature, helps them to develop proper understanding with each other and after getting a few goals, like a chain reaction, your confidence builds up, you feel the pressure less, and do justice to your abilities.

  • Holding the fort – In the first leg, the defence was hugely criticized for making mistakes and crumbling under pressure. However, the defence has improved hugely this time. Some of the results like 1-1 draw against East Bengal can be totally credited to the defensive solidity. Raju certainly has been a standout player in the central defence, and he was well supported by Inderpreet and Deepak.

  • Variety in strategy – It was said for long that the Arrows only play long balls. When I saw them during their game in Bangalore, I saw them employing long ball strategy in first half but in 2nd half they played differently. Even my good friend Nishant Ramela, who watches matches in Gurgaon, reported the same. He has seen them change strategies in different games. Yes, it is true that long ball still, probably, remains the most favourite weapon in Bulpin’s arsenal but the boys are also well acquainted with different strategies, and they are comfortable with that.

  • Rotating the players – Main plan of Arrows is to develop players, and Bulpin has mostly rotated players and so there was no fixed playing XI (Although we can easily name best XI and Bulpin sometimes cribs about not having first XI players fully fit). So, even when players like Dika, Tirthankar, Deepak, Abhishek, Fela, Shilton, Gurpreet were unavailable for various reasons, the other could take their place. And this feature of having a good bench strength with fitter and hungrier players is a big advantage for any team in a long season. 

What’s  next ?

Even though, I try hard to convince that Arrows have taken i-League by storm, the truth is that they can still be relegated! They need 1 point against Mohun Bagan in the last game to be safe, otherwise it will depend on some of the other results. As an Indian Arrows fan, I am certainly not very happy with this situation. I should categorically mention that although I am claiming that there have been improvements, I am not by any means saying the improvements have been huge. Meanwhile, AIFF has also released a statement that they may release Indian Arrows players who are being called by their respective clubs and the u-19 players who also practice with Arrows will take their place. So, it looks like AIFF has changed some of its original plans, and are more interested in using Arrows as a platform for young players to show their worth at the highest level, and then releasing them to clubs where, they have a better opportunity of breaking into the playing XI. I personally like this idea better than the idea of keeping a set of players together for 5-6 years in Arrows because that looks less feasible, in the context of how modern football is shaped. 

Here are the full statistics of the Arrows, make your own judgment!!!

 Performance in both halves of the league:

Full Scorer list:

P.S.: There are few loopholes in the analysis. In my opinion the article holds true even with them. But, nevertheless, I would like to mention them. Firstly, I don’t take into account the quality of oppositions played in away games in the 1st half. For example, in the 1st half, Arrows played against some of the big team like Churchill Brothers, East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Salgaocar as away games, which can be one reason of conceding more goals in 1st half. However, it is also true that some of the biggest victories of Arrows came in away games in the 2nd half as mentioned earlier. Secondly, most of the bottom lying teams have also hugely improved, I have not tried any comparisons with other team’s performances, which would have been even better! Finally, one also needs to consider the manner with which the results came, like sometimes you lose even though you dominate, sometimes you escape with a draw after a poor performance.

About The Author:

Rudra Nayan Das, Indian Football Fan, Kolkata
I am Rudra, a football fan from Kolkata, now temporarily displaced to Bangalore. You just can’t avoid football when your home is just 10 minutes from Yuva Bharati Krirangan (Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata). I try my best to keep up with reports and discussions on Indian football. I, like most of other Indian football fans, want to see our footballing standards to reach great heights. My main intentions are to get new people to follow Indian football and promote anyone who is doing proper publicity for Indian  football, Debraj is certainly one of them who is providing updates from his Indian Football Blog. My favourite activity is to chat with people who have faint idea about Indian football and to give them a rosy picture of all the developments happening!

You can catch me and more importantly other knowledgeable football fans in facebook in these groups: Indian Football and AIFF XI / Indian Arrows 

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Anonymous said...

I agree ... they have shown improvement.. they r getting excellent facilities from AIFF which is not even available to senior players... these kind of projects are good for Indian soccer.

SB said...

We know this is not feasible but that is why the AIFF needs to find sponsors.But I think this team should atleast last for 3 years to gel together and they should ofcourse add release or sell players to clubs and get new faces but retain most of them to make the process seamless.

Rudra said...

Well thats not hap penning..the players will join other clubs..we need proper u19 league

SB said...

This is a problem with the AIFF. There is no continuity. You start one thing and midday we change tracks.If we keep doing it we will still be sitting at 145. Whatever decisionthe AIFF takes they should stick with it alteast for few years to make it worthwhile