CHENNAI: When conceived, the Indian Arrows project had lofty ambitions — develop players who’ll help the country qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. To say it fell horribly short would be an understatement, but it did end up giving the country most of its current national team, including the likes of Jeje Lalpekhlua and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
And now, the Arrows project, deactivated in 2013 after a sponsorship crunch, is back again. This time, it hopes to provide the country’s U-17 WC team a platform to continue their development.
A meeting of the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) technical committee held on Tuesday okayed a proposal to field a youth team in the I-League starting from the upcoming season.
The news was confirmed to Express by Shyam Thapa, who chaired the meeting. “The decision has been taken by the AIFF to keep these U-17 boys together for at least 4-5 years,” he said. “But it will not be the full U-17 team that takes to the field this season. A lot of the players will be our U-19 boys. Players from the U-17 team who do well will gradually be called up.”
While discussions are still at a preliminary stage, it seems increasingly likely that the AIFF will not be alone in this endeavour, unlike last time. Express understands that AIFF is trying to bring Sports Authority of India (SAI) on board. A top ministry official confirmed that talks had been held with AIFF. “Talks are on, but no decision has been taken over supporting such a team,” the official said.
“There are pros and cons, but if we look at the long term development of the players, it will be good if they play together. But we cannot be a commercial entity. If a club comes and pick up players, we cannot do anything. They also need to earn money. But as far training is concerned, we can take care of that.”
The project will also see I-League football find its way to Delhi. Facilities developed for the U-17 World Cup in the city will likely be used as the team’s base.
According to sources close to the AIFF, the decision to field a team in the I-League was taken after coach Stephen Constantine worked with the U-23 team and found most of its players suffering due to a lack of first team football.