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India assistant Shanmugam Venkatesh backs Indian Arrows boys to step up to the national team

5:06 PM SGT 12/12/19
India assistant Shanmugam Venkatesh Indian Arrows I-League 2019-20
The Indian Arrows project is churning out talents steadily and the coach Venkatesh backs them to make a mark in the national team set up...

Shanmugham Venkatesh was recently appointed as the head coach of the Indian Arrows for the 2019-20 I-League season. One of the primary reasons for doing so was to ensure that players, who would fit into the system of senior India coach Igor Stimac, are scouted and groomed at a young age.

Stimac has handed debuts to former Arrows prodigies such as Amarjit Singh, Narender Gehlot and also included Anwar Ali in his squad on a few occasions. Several Arrows cadets have gone on to join Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League teams this season and have already made an impression.

If one looks at the current crop of India team players, many learnt their footballing lessons while at Arrows.

The likes of Ashish Rai, Aniket Jadhav, Rahul Kannoly Praveen, Nongdamba Naorem and Jeakson Singh are mong others who are playing for bigger clubs both in the I-League and ISL. 

Venkatesh has got a new set of players under his tutelage this season. Players such as Samik Mitra, Hendry Antonay and Suraj Rawat have returned after stints with other clubs, some on-loan, to play for the Arrows this season.

The challenge will be to not just groom them but also give them a taste of a professional set-up.

"In this project, our focus and vision is to improve the players," Venkatesh told Goal. "I want to see at least four players play for the Indian senior team by the end of the season. Of course, the result is very important. At the same time, we have to develop a few players and see at least four-to-five players make the step up to the senior team."

Indian Arrows fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat against Gokulam Kerala in the opener of the ongoing I-League and were edged by Aizawl FC despite Mitra making several saves to frustrate the Mizoram side's attackers on Monday.

"I'm learning every season. We are a good unit and we are learning every day," Mitra said to Goal after being adjudged the Hero of the Match despite ending on the losing side.

The 19-year-old, who had the opportunity to train with ISL side Chennaiyin FC's senior team after being part of their junior and B teams last season, was also praised by Aizawl coach Stanley Rozario.

"The (Indian Arrows) boys are very talented and till the 90-95th minute they kept on pressing. Their goalkeeper (Mitra) was outstanding. When an opponent goalkeeper gets the Hero of the Match, it shows how many chances we created and how many saves he made," Rozario expressed to Goal.

Given how Mitra has emerged to replace the likes of Dheeraj Singh Moiranthem and Prabhsukan Singh Gill in the Indian Arrows goal shows that the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) developmental side is fast becoming a talent pipeline which gives Indian youngsters much-needed game time.

Monday's I-League clash witnessed a resilient Arrows side forced to defend deep in their half, only to come hard at their opponents and bag a late equaliser through Vikram Pratap Singh. But they conceded a late injury-time goal and eventually lost the match.

As Venkatesh would add, "I-League is like a marathon. We have to improve in every game. All the boys are juniors and it will take time for them to mature. Conceding a goal in the last minute is also part of the game. 

"Without pressure, we can't focus. There is no relegation but we are not relaxed. This is a great opportunity for players to play against senior and professional sides. They know how important it is. First thing is that we have to perform well and get the points. At the end of the season, let's see how things stand."