Under-17, but Above Expectations?
India's Under-17 team is ready to play. But what can we realistically expect from them and what happens in their future?
“It was deserving, India are a team who will compete and make their country proud, you can tell there is a lot of work from Luis and what he has achieved with their players,”
Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal), Arturo Vidal (Bayern Munich), Claudio Bravo (Manchester City) are some of the players in the Chile senior squad. And their Under-17 coach is impressed with our players, after a 1-1 draw against the Chile Under-17 squad.
Did the sun just wink at us from behind the clouds?
Football in India, is going through a period of flux. While the ideal dream of having an amazing national team and a television-friendly national league is becoming a reality, the ISL and the Indian team’s ranking are not exactly perfect. Plus, if out of more than 211 nations, we are the only country to have two national leagues, with special permission from FIFA to boot, well…you decide what that means. Our point being, change is happening in Indian football, maybe for the bad, maybe for the good.
Nicolai Adam had worked with the Azerbaijan team, guiding them from the Under-16 to the Under-19 level, a spell which was recognized as a very successful one. Of course, when he was appointed as coach of the-then Under-15 Indian team on April 1, 2015, there were high hopes.
On February 7, 2017, he was sacked.
By March, when Luis Norton de Matos was selected as the replacement, it was hard to be bullish about what the team would achieve in the to-be-held-in-a-matter-of-months World Cup. After all, they had even played in a number of tournaments beforehand, with the results being:
- Lost all matches in the BRICS Cup
- Last out of 16 teams in the Granatkin Tournament in Russia
- One draw, and two losses in the group stage of the Under-16 AFC Championship.
Back to what we started with, there seems to be hope, even after all of it seemed like going to the ground.
When are we playing?
All matches are to be played in Delhi, which happened courtesy AIFF requesting for it. That aside, India’s other group mates are:
USA (October 6), Colombia (October 9) and Ghana (October 12).
None of the above are pushovers. Fingers crossed, though.
What happens after the tournament?
The jury is out on whether a strong showing at the Under-17 stage is any indicator of the same squad’s strength at the senior level. While is there enough evidence for not taking the results seriously, there are also gems unearthed at this level. What both sides can agree on though, is the invaluable experience & buzz created around the sport. Especially for India.
In 2010, there was a sudden wish of sending an Indian team to the 2018 World Cup. With this in mind, the AIFF came up with an idea: the Indian Under-19 team would play against the top clubs of the country in the national league (the I-League), while being relegation-proof. The squad would consist of only Indian players, and that too, changed after every year. An year later, the team even secured sponsorship, and became the Palian Arrows.
The players did play well; though they kept changing coaches, their performances were appreciated, especially in the 2012-13 season. It also helped that the overall performances of the Indian youth teams was also on an upswing.
Of course, it is Indian football. In 2013, the team was disbanded, the money being the problem. Reportedly, the players were not being paid too. But the officials were just as funny, including the voracious consumer-of-his-own-words Praful Patel. For example:
“I’ve been impressed with the residential wing, the kitchen, the swimming pool and the gymnasium and the training grounds,” Mr. Patel added [SportsKeeda].
“Moreover, the infrastructure at Pailan in the outskirts of the city is in a bad shape. We have no option but to pull the team out,” asserted an AIFF official [DNA].
In the span of 2 years, the infrastructure went from impressive to bad shape. Right.
Back to the present, the same Arrows idea is being proposed, with participation in future tournaments, across age groups, being laid out. Will it stumble on the altar of money again? Let’s see.