The AIFF developmental side finished at eighth spot in the league standings.
The attacking instincts of the Indian Arrows have always been on display in the Hero I-League under Floyd Pinto. But there’s more to what meets the eye. A lot has changed at the defensive front with the unit staying more cohesive, keeping calm during those crucial phases backing each other, and defending as a team.
The transformation has all been done behind the scenes quietly by current assistant coach Mahesh Gawli who played perhaps the most effective football during his playing days, that too quietly.
“We do not have any foreign central defenders. So obviously we’ve had to do a lot of work on how to control the aerial threats,” Gawli, one of India’s most versatile defenders, states. “We made our plans accordingly. The players grasped it immediately, and played with intent. Credit goes the boys,” he maintains.
The Indian Arrows, comprising of an all Indian outfit, that too of boys below 19 years, put up a stupendous show in the Hero I-League, finishing at the 8th spot on 21 points – their best-ever finish ever in the top flight. Creditable victories against Mohun Bagan, defending champions Minerva Punjab FC, Aizawl FC, and five clean sheets, stayed their highlight.
“When I first joined the team at the start of the season, I mainly looked at working on the basics, Gawli adds. “We fed the boys with information, showed them the videos, and told them how to communicate with each other, in order to form a formidable back-four.”
The work, in reality was harder. Defensive stability was not something that was easily achieved. After all, the Arrows comprised of boys who played in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, along with other players from the U-16 and the U-19 sides.
Head Coach Floyd Pinto is never a miser to credit Gawli for all of that. “Credit to Mahesh for coming in, and working with the boys to improve us. He has added a lot to the defence, allowed the team to come together when we don’t have the ball,” said Pinto. “The boys took their instructions really well and reacted to the situation, and they really did well.”
“It gave us the confidence to implement the plans we had worked on the drawing board, and implemented it during training,” Gawli explained.
“Getting the shape of the team right took a lot of dedication, hard work, and sacrifice for us all,” said Gawli. “I myself have had to give up on going home during the festivals, or spending as much time with my family as before,” Gawli smiles.
The results followed. Under Gawli’s guidance, the fans were taken back to an era which demonstrated that an Indian back four can also dominate the defence, the aerial threats.
“In my five years at Dempo FC, we have worked mostly with Indian defences, and won three I-League titles during that period,” recollects Gawli. “A bit of communication and planning is all it takes to form a good defence.”
Building from the defence, the Arrows have formed themselves into a formidable unit, beating Hero Indian Super League side Kerala Blasters in the Hero Super League qualifiers. Next to face ISL finalists FC Goa in the Round of 16, Gawli believes the youngsters currently donning the Arrows shirt, have a bright future.
“They are the best players of their age-group in this country. There’s no doubt that this bunch has the potential to take Indian football forward.”