New Delhi, March 29: Sometimes as we all move ahead in life, we tend to forget about the simpler things. Even when you have everything you can wish for, small things like the feel of soft grass under your feet, or the warm rays of the morning sun can bring great joy. A football season can be a hectic affair, both for coaches and for the players. During the course of a season, we all tend to complicate certain things that could actually be solved quite easily. I can say with an amount of certainty that my boys, our support staff, and myself have learnt it the hard way.
The Indian Arrows project was resumed last season, in order to give the next generation of bright footballers a chance to play regularly in the top flight. They could go to other clubs surely, and try to work their way up through the structures. But with so many seniors, and foreign recruits present in a squad, it is often natural for coaches to overlook the ones who are not as experienced in the top level.
A Shaky Beginning
I will not mince words when I say that we have not always been able to get the desired results with the Arrows. We finished bottom of the pile last season. This season too, we did not have the best of starts. We only had one win (against Shillong Lajong FC) in our first seven matches. I have been with this Indian Arrows setup since it was revamped last season, first as an assistant coach, and now as the head coach.
It is all about assessing what you have done. Back when I was the assistant coach, I would always take some time to take a step back and think about what I could do differently. I do exactly the same thing now as well. This is why, when we had a 10-day gap in the I-League, the coaching staff, including Hameed (goalkeeper coach), Mahesh Gawli (assistant coach) and myself sat down with the boys for a long chat. What you have to understand is that we had some rigorous pre-season tours in Spain (Cotif Cup), Serbia and Croatia. But the fact is that the quality of teams that we faced there was so high that we did not have many opportunities to experiment.
After playing these tough tournaments, we had a discussion with the boys, and we all decided to try and play a more attacking brand of football. We decided to try this in the first few matches of the season. We actually got off to a great start and took the lead against Chennai City FC in the first match of the season. But then we conceded four, and that was a hard pill to swallow.
Mahesh worked on keeping the shape of the team, and I worked on how to turn defence into attack. However, we learnt through the course of time, that it is the little things that help you achieve your goals. It’s all fine to set up a drawing board and tell the players what to do. But you have to hit the ground and work on the finer things that would help you implement these strategies. So I started to work with the players on the basics like what kind of touch to take in different scenarios. This combined effort worked.
The fact that 11 of these guys — some of them as young as 16 — got selected for the India U-23 camp speaks a lot about how much they have improved over the course of the season.
Setting an Example
Yes, we took some time, but I think, we, at the Indian Arrows have shown the rest of the clubs in the country that you can use young Indian players to great effect if you give them the proper coaching, facilities and education. Older players will bring in their own brand of experience in clutch situations, but football is an ever-evolving game, and youngsters generally have a greater capacity to absorb information, and learn new stuff.
If you look at our matches, we have never allowed our opponents to sit, and relax. We may have conceded a goal or lost a match, but we have always dictated the pace of the game. We have our own pace and we play according to it, no matter who the opposition is. Sure, we do make minor changes with regards to the opposition, but our larger goal to dictate the pace of the game remains the same, as we are confident of the fact that we are one of the fittest teams in the country. Not many clubs can match our intensity for 90 minutes and beyond.
I myself have always worked with young players throughout my coaching life — be it at the Kenkre Academy, or the AIFF elite academy, or the Indian Arrows. Of course, it’s a more professionalised setup here at the Arrows as we are playing in the top flight, but developing youngsters and making them ready for the big, bad world out there is something that I have always been doing.
The current Arrows crop is a bunch of extremely talented players with a lot of potential. However, we have often seen good potential getting wasted due to certain wrong decisions in their lives. The players may decide to join different clubs in the future, but at the end of the day, they need to work things out in their head and go to setups where they will be around people who will help them improve — coaches, management, agents.
I believe that our coaching staff has given these boys that education, and wherever they may go in the future, they would go on to make the beautiful game more attractive.