Its the dawn of a new era and the AIFF’s Development side returns featuring Gen Next of Indian football.

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This is the second time AIFF’s pilot project – the Indian Arrows are returning to the Indian footballing fold. The team last participated in the I-league way back in 2012-13 and took the 12th spot on the league table. Arthur Papus managed the team but due to the lack of sponsors, the project and the team were re-branded as Pailan Arrows and its main sponsor, the Pailan Group, announced that it would not support the team financially.


Probably the most difficult pre-season amongst all the I-league sides, the India U-19 team that is set to participate in the league had a pre-season at the AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers, plying their trade against Asia’s best. The Indian Colts played Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan and Yemen in Dammam and showed flashes of brilliance in patches. Manager Luis Norton de Matos will surely look to change a thing or two as the young lads, most of them that participated in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, will match their seniors head-to-head in the upcoming I-league season.

The Coach

Luis Norton de Matos failed in making a difference in the two tournaments while managing the Indian Colts.

Luis Norton de Matos came amidst a lot of fanfare and drama and led India at it’s first ever FIFA World Cup at any level, the country participating as hosts. The Portuguese manager is one heavily influenced by Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho and gives a lot of priority to ‘security first’. A strong believer of the four-at-the-back and single striker system, the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 are the most heavily used systems by the 63-year-old. De Deus has been tasked to build a side for the future, amalgamating the U-19 boys with the U-17 team to build a strong core. This team is expected to take the field if India get to host the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2019.

The Squad

The AIFF has managed to retain the core of the FIFA U-17 World Cup team. Most of the lads that made the nation proud and played with the crest in the showpiece affair are registered with the football governing body. Additionally, a lot of players from the U-19 team that were signed by several clubs throughout the country have been signed on loan as well to continue their development under the flagship project. Players like Naorem Roshan Singh and Edmund Lalrindika have been retained on loan from Bengaluru FC while the likes of Deepak Tangri, Sahil Panwar and Abhishek Halder have been brought in the same way from FC Pune City. The status of the other U-19 players is still a little unclear and it depends on the selections made by the man at the helm and Abhishek Yadav.

Formation and Tactics

If your manager is Portuguese, bet on him playing the 4-2-3-1 model, and more often than not, you’ll take the money home. With Matos, it’s no different. A two defensive-midfield, one inverted winger and one regular winger on the right is what Matos has been persisting with, regularly.

At the back, Dheeraj Singh’s name is the first on the team sheet, the 16-year-old showing immaculate maturity under the bar and easily the team’s number one custodian. At the back, Anwar Ali and Sahil Panwar should start at the back. Anwar committed a poor blunder for the first goal against Saudi Arabia, but that should not harm his chances. Sahil is also a strong contender to walk the side out. Sanjeev Stalin and Boris Thangjam continue to be India’s best full backs in age-categories and are set to be on the walk in.

In the midfield, Abhishek Halder looks to have caught the manager’s eye and alongside Suresh Singh Wangjam or Jeakson Singh, can be the Indian ‘Paul Pogba’ – a less talented version but with similar nuances certainly. On the left wing, Manipuri lads Nongdamba Naorem and Ninthoinganba Meetei should make the left wing and the right wing their own, with KP Rahul pressuring for both spots easily. Centrally, Edmund should be the one to start behind Lalawmpuia, but the manager have also taken a good look at the Bengaluru FC lad and Edu, as he’s fondly called, may start up top. If Edmund starts at No. 10, Rahim Ali remains the first choice to be the No. 9, for reasons unknown and unclear.

The 25-member squad stays as follows:

GOALKEEPERS: Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, Sunny Dhaliwal, Prabhsukhan Singh Gill.

DEFENDERS: Deepak Tangri, Ashish Rai, Boris Singh Thangjam, Sanjeev Stalin, Anwar Ali, Jitendra Singh, Naorem Roshan Singh, Sumit Rathi, Narender.

MIDFIELDERS: Abhishek Halder, Suresh Singh Wangjam, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Rahul KP, Khumanthem Ninthoinganba Meetei, Nongdamba Naorem, Jeakson Singh Thounaojam, Namgyal Bhutia, Lalengmawia, Abhijit Sarkar.

FORWARDS: Edmund Lalrindika, Aniket Anil Jadhav, Rahim Ali.


When you’ve got to prove a point, you usually punch above your weight. With Indian Arrows, fans should expect exactly that. The lads are raring to go, having put on a fairly good show in Saudi Arabia and at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Matching the senior footballers inch-by-inch is in itself enough motivation, and with the state-of-the-art facilities provided to this team, they should be expected to go far in the competition or at least, show that the future is in the right hands.


Physicality and conditioning, undoubtedly. Football is a game that is played on the pitch and on the ball, but a lot of it matters on other factors as well, and these two, make the crux of the problem. The boys, except for some of them, will need to cope up with the rigours of the hard task and physicality of the league and keep themselves fresh for the next game. Niggles, injuries and exertion could be an issue, and the medical team should take good care of that.

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Top 3 Players to Watch

Abhishek Halder: Easily the man Matos entrusts with running the midfield, Halder is one of the most unheralded talents in India’s hands at the moment. The lanky midfielder knows a trick or two to beat men in the centre of the pitch and is never shy to find the onrushing winger. With his ability, Halder, if provided a little space, is certainly going to cause a problem or two.

Rahul KP: Amidst a lot of celebrities, we tend to find that protagonist that slowly and silently plays his role to perfection, and that is, Rahul. Right-back, right-wing, left-back, left-wing, Matos has pushed Rahul In all the four positions and he has never failed to impress. His versatility and his never-say-die attitude shows why he’s one for the future.

Sanjeev Stalin has proved his mettle in the U-17 FIFA World Cup

Sanjeev Stalin: Slowly growing into one of the most reliable cogs in India’s youth wheel, the Bengaluru boy showcased at the AFC U-19 qualifiers why he was scouted by European clubs at the World Cup. Sanjeev is never shy of keeping the ball, is a smooth passer and is one of the best runners on the football pitch. His dead-ball abilities are a bonus, but he needs to work on them to brush them to a better level.

What To Expect

To be direct and honest, fans should only expect them to play the right kind of football, with the ball at their feet and inter-exchanging passes smoothly. Being AIFF’s flagship, the team looks set to avoid relegation, if the need arrives. A mid-table finish between 5th and 7th looks right as well as realistic from the side that has never performed in the domestic league.