The AIFF development side finished in eighth position in the league in the recently concluded season.
In a conversation with Khel Now earlier on this season, head coach of the Indian Arrows team Floyd Pinto had named three key players for his squad’s performances. Such predictions from the head coach could disturb the mentality of the rest of the squad, but it didn’t, in the case of the U-19 lads.
Pinto had placed his bets on goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Gill, midfielder and captain Amarjit Singh Kiyam and hard-working attacker Rahul KP. The prophecy was spot on, looking in hindsight. Gill, a boy with few words but a furrowed brow whenever his defenders made a mistake, has slowly and steadily made a name for himself as one of the safer custodians in the I-league.
Kiyam, meanwhile, was set for bigger things from the beginning. He walked the India U-17 side out at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017 and hasn’t looked back since then. The defensive midfielder slowly moved upwards on the field in position and proved his worth on most of the occasions he took spot-kicks from 12 yards.
Amarjit has been a threat to reckon with in the I-League this season
Rahul Kannoly Praveen, a winger and full-back at the World Cup, has seen his worth rise by the day. The Kerala-born youngster was one of the most creative players in the league. He created chances against every opposition and his ability on the ball is something Pinto has time and again thrown his weight behind. Rahul also has a knack of playing through-balls, something only he and Amarjit in the side can boast of doing regularly.
The junior side had a season to remember. Pinto tried many new players, with Aakash Mishra and Aimol Reamsochung breaking through. U-16 players Rohit Danu and Vikram Pratap Singh re-directed the side’s attack after they were drafted into the side and both boys from Bibiano Fernandes’ team have scored a handful of goals between them, helping the side often.
Vikram Pratap’s hard work earned him praise, as the winger-forward made sure to run the full length of the pitch whenever the need arose. Danu, on the other hand, added treachery to the team’s attacking instinct and some of his finishes were class. These U-16 boys, along with Gurkirat Singh, have a long way to go and the season suggests that they are on the right track.
Another player who grew leaps and bounds is defensive midfielder Deepak Tangri. Tangri, who had formerly made the India U-19 backline with FC Pune City’s Sahil Panwar, took Amarjit’s position at #5 and never looked back.
The former Elite Academy and Mohun Bagan reserves player took to his new position like fish to water and screened the defence as if he was made to do it. He jumped high to win aerial duels, something both Suresh Singh Wangjam and Amarjit lack. After the departure of Jeakson Singh to Minerva Punjabb, it was important for the coach to add more steel to his defensive midfield and Tangri delivered.
Boris Singh’s attacking abilities have gone higher under Floyd Pinto
Last season, the Arrows were working on a ploy that their then manager, Luis Norton de Matos, had ideated. This campaign, they played to their strengths. Boris Singh Thangjam, a right-back under Matos, was regularly used on the wing by Pinto again. Thangjam was used in the same position sparingly by Nicolai Adam as well. Ninthoi Meetei, too, played a part, after a stop-start beginning to the season.
This season has also seen two under-performers from last campaign come to the forefront and leave a mark. Both Aniket Jadhav and Rahim Ali, forwards that led India’s line at the World Cup, were regularly used on the left wing, a role they thrived in. Jadhav is set to visit England on a three-month-long trial stint with English club Blackburn Rovers, something that would benefit the forward. He needs to work on his finishing.
Central midfielder Lalengmawia, who was criticized during the World Cup for his lackluster displays, played well whenever he was called upon. His free-flowing nature of runs and fluid footwork weren’t the most inspiring, but contributed to the ideas Pinto had in his mind.
The central defence, too, had some tremendous outings. Anwar Ali, Narender, Jitendra Singh and at times Lalengmawia, all played safe, disciplined football that wasn’t great on the eye, but was certainly effective on the pitch. The Arrows squad used its depth to great effect and the contribution of the U-16 players shouldn’t go unnoticed.
The team has come a long way, but needs to continue to work the same way it has been functioning. Some players that are continuing on loan from ISL sides will leave after the Super Cup and Pinto will need to look at other available options. This team, though, has completed the league in style, beating Mohun Bagan 3-1 and standing on the 8th spot on a table of 11 teams. They scored 19 times and accumulated 21 points during the season.
It certainly shows development in a side that completed last season at the bottom of the table, with just four wins under its belt. The team, under Pinto, looks happier. The author has conversed with several players in the squad and everyone seemed to know their respective roles. There haven’t been clashes and the boys have been far more welcoming to new ideas and players. This holds them in the right stead for the future, which gapes at them with bright eyes.
With the AFC U-23 Championship Qualifiers looming large on some players from this squad that new manager Derick Pereira has called upon, it will be a litmus test for their verve and abilities, as they face Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan from 22nd March onwards in Tashkent.