With the Indian Arrows throwing up numerous talented youngsters, fair to say the project is likely to play a big role in Indian football’s future….
The Indian Arrows project has been a major conveyor belt for talents ever since it was conceptualised by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) back in 2010. Though the Arrows was disbanded for a brief while between 2013 and 2017, it provided a platform for many current India regulars.
The project, restarted in 2017 to ensure the continued development of India’s young stars, has begun churning out potential stars for the future already.
The likes of current India number one Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and other established players like Jeje Lalpekhlua, Pritam Kotal, Pronay Halder, Lalrindika Ralte, Halicharan Narzary, Narayan Das and more came through the Arrows set up when it was initially started.
After its restart, couple of Arrows products have already made it into the national team squad in midfielder Amarjit Singh and defender Narender Gahlot. This is in addition to the likes of Anwar Ali who were given call ups to the preparatory camps.
Rahul KP, Jeakson Singh (both from Kerala Blasters), Abhijit Sarkar (on loan at East Bengal from Chennaiyin FC), Nongdamba Naorem (on loan at Mohun Bagan from Kerala Blasters), Suresh Singh Wangjam (Bengaluru FC), Lalengmawia and Ninthoinganba Meetei (both NorthEast United), Asish Rai (Hyderabad FC) and Aniket Jadhav (Jamshedpur FC) – some of the talents that have caught the eye this season in the I-League and ISL are all Arrows products.
Clearly, the role Arrows is playing in moulding youngsters cannot be understated. Former India midfielder Shanmugam Venkatesh, the current head coach of the Arrows, feels that Arrows will be the backbone of the India national team.
“The Arrows side has really been the backbone for the senior team for almost a decade now. I would like to thank the AIFF for continuing with it. The likes of Gurpreet, Pritam, Pronay, Jeje, Halicharan have all been with Arrows earlier,” he told Goal.
“And it just not about the Arrows – it’s about the Academy project. If you look at it, most of the currently established players have been part of that project for long.”
The very aim of the project is to ensure promising talents get consistent game time at the highest level of the game in the country during their formative years. It is a crucial aspect of the development of any player. Instead of joining a big team at a tender age and sitting on the bench most of the time or playing reserve games, these players can test themselves out in the I-League and get valuable match experience.
Playing on a regular basis against professional teams with more mature and physical players including overseas stars will only hold these youngsters in good stead. Like they say – ‘Those forged in fire do not wilt in the sun.’
There are detractors of the concept who claim playing against senior players and losing consistently is not good for the mental development of these talents. But the results of the Arrows in the last two seasons have been encouraging. They have managed to beat some big teams in the last two seasons, including both Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.
This season, the Arrows had two wins and three draws. Out of the 11 losses, they lost by more than a one-goal margin only four times. Of the seven times they lost by a one-goal margin, twice they conceded late goals, indicating a lack of experience – something that should come by getting more game time.
And most of the key members in the team feature in Goal‘s NxGn India list that profiles the best 10 young talents in the country.
The AIFF scouts all junior tournaments for possible candidates to join the Arrows project and ensure it continues to be a supply line that churns out more and more players. If all these players continue to develop well, while enjoying consistent game time, they could be in their prime when the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers (the tournament offers at least 8 spots for Asian teams) come along.
In all likelihood, Arrows will play a huge role in moulding India’s golden generation, if and when that comes.