In its second avatar, the Indian Arrows FC seems to be hitting all the targets. The latest team to be hit by the young arrows has been the defending champions Minerva Punjab FC.
The current Indian Arrows FC seem to be having the flair and the range to take on any competitive side in India and well deservedly they are sitting pretty on the 7th spot in the I-League rankings. For a team that comprises of the top young talent mostly below 19 years, this is a great achievement. While winning was not as important an objective of the project, it feels nice to be winning while the team is developing to serve the future national team of the country.
The Indian Arrows FC was reborn in 2017 but the origins of the project lies in the year 2010.
The growing concern for the then National Team head coach, Bob Houghton was to see the number of youth national team players warming the benches of the professional clubs while they should be getting more game time and competitive experiences.
The Youth League structure was non-existent and there was no motivation for the professional clubs to focus on the youth development aspect as enough players were available for the limited number of clubs plying their trade in the national league. The withdrawal of Mahindra United opened up a spot for the Arrows team to participate in the top division of the I-League and since then the team has been the launch pad for many future stars who went on and served the country.
In the National team squad that played in the Asian Cup 2019, one could still see the former Arrows like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, JejeLalpekhlua, Narayan Das, PranoyHalder, PritamKotal and HalicharanNazary validating the success of the idea of the Indian Arrows FC.
Cut to the present times and the version 2.0 of the Indian Arrows FC is shaping the U-17 World Cup stars into competitive players for the immediate U-23 National team and hopefully for the next generation of the Senior National team.
While I love to see the progress of these youngsters, I also hope that the need for continuing the Indian Arrows FC beyond the next two years does not arise.
The project was a temporary attempt to create a model that could be adapted by the clubs to run their own youth development programs and I am positive that we have enough number of clubs in the country to take the baton from here on. It is incredible to think that a federation should be running its own team in its own league.
The purpose was training and development of the youth players and I believe so far it has served the purpose. Fortunately, the AIFF Youth Leagues (U18, U15 and U13) is also headed in the right direction to provide an opportunity for the clubs and academies to build their younger squads and offer them competitive football. Might not be enough but hoping that in next couple years this also grows while the Arrows project could see its phasing out.
Another bright spot that Indian Arrows FC could be credited to is the emergence of the Indian Coaches and the support staff of the team. The team in its history has seen seven coaches out of which two have been expats. Floyd Pinto has grown with the project and I would love to see him claiming his rightful stake in the National team development structureeven beyond the Arrows team.