For the first time ever, Mumbai City FC will square up against an opposition from the I-League. What makes it even more momentous is that we face the Indian Arrows – the developmental squad of the AIFF comprising of the U17 and the U19 national teams of India. Here’s a close look at the Indian Arrows and how they come in to today’s crucial encounter..
The Indian Arrows, initially known as the AIFF XI and then the Pailan Arrows, are a developmental squad as part of an initiative by the AIFF to nurture and develop young Indian footballing talent. First formed in 2010 following a recommendation from then Indian National Team head coach Bob Houghton, the AIFF XI’s (as they were called back then) objective was to develop a strong Indian side that could possibly qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The AIFF XI made their debut first, in the 2010 Federation Cup and then in the 2010 I-League season as well, finishing in 9th place and in the midst of it, renamed themselves as the Indian Arrows. The following season, the team saw another change in their name, taking the name of Pailan Arrows, after the Pailan Group were roped in as sponsors for the developmental squad.
Over the course of the next two seasons, the Arrows would see a host of future stars play in their colours. Some of the Arrows’ graduates – like Jeje Lalpekhlua, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and former Islanders Lalrindika Ralte and Pronay Halder – went on to represent the national team and become big household names in the country. They also went through the ways of notable coaches like Arthur Papas, Desmond Bulpin, and former Indian national team coach Sukhwinder Singh.
In 2013, the project was disbanded after the Pailan Group withdrew their sponsorship from the Arrows. But after a historic appearance at the 2017 FIFA U17 World Cup by the Indian colts, the Indian Arrows were revived. The aim – to develop and give regular game time to the squad made up of the core of the Indian U17 and U19 teams under the tutelage of Luis Norton de Matos.
2017-18 Season Summary
The revamped Indian Arrows made their appearance in the I-League, playing their home games at the Ambedkar Stadium, New Delhi and the GMC Bambolim Stadium, Goa. With an eye on India’s bid for the upcoming FIFA U20 World Cup in 2019, the squad will look to prepare in case another World Cup comes India’s way.
The Arrows kicked off the I-League campaign in November, winning against Chennai City FC. The Arrows lost following four games before turning up in style yet again, this time with a 3-0 win over Shillong Lajong. Midfielder Nongdamba Naorem scored arguably one of the goals of the season, skipping past half the Lajong side before slotting it home.
One of the top performers of the U17 World Cup for the national side and for the Arrows, goalkeeper Dheeraj Moirangthem, left the side in the January transfer window. Dheeraj proceeded to train with ISL side Kerala Blasters before earning a trial to Scottish Premiership side Motherwell FC.
Meanwhile, the Arrows’ performances on the pitch sometimes did not do justice to the results the Arrows amassed. A draw with Mohun Bagan and close defeats to Lajong and NEROCA followed before they managed their first away victory – a 1-0 win against Gokulam Kerala FC.
The Arrows won their fourth and final game against Churchill Brothers and finished the season last, in 10th place in the I League. The Arrows, however, avoided relegation by virtue of being a developmental squad of the AIFF.
Players To Watch Out
Formerly a part of the DSK Shivajians and the Minerva Punjab academies, the 18-year-old Manipuri grabbed the headlines and invited comparisons to Lionel Messi after his wondergoal against Shillong Lajong. Although the u17 World Cup star has scored just one goal this season, his pace and trickery is a huge asset to de Matos’ side.
The forward from Kolhapur has been a lethal presence in front of goal for the Arrows and for the national team. Coming through the ranks of Pune FC and then the AIFF Elite Academy, 17-year-old Jadhav bagged a brace in the opening fixture of the I League, a 3-0 win against Chennai City FC and went on to give some accomplished performances throughout the season.
He shares his name with a former Mumbai City FC lynchpin and an accomplished central defender of our generation. 17-year-old Anwar Ali started off at the Minerva Punjab academy and has shown his mettle in the U17 World Cup and in the heart of the Arrows’ defence this season. He has shown incredible composure for his age and makes sure very little gets past him.