Indian Arrows head coach Luis Norton de Matos has high hopes for the young players at his disposal. Ahead of their I-League match against Gokulam Kerala, Matos suggested that seven players from his Arrows side this season can aim to take part in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) qualifiers for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in two years' time.
"This I-League is very exciting for us. I proposed that the team [should] play in I-League. From my experience in my own country, I can say that these 16 and 17-year-olds will benefit if they play in a professional league with senior players."
"We cannot see the I-League as a platform to get results, but a process where they will gain experience. I have seven players who in two years time can play AFC qualifiers for U-20 World Cup. With this preparation of two years, it is possible to fight the best teams in Asia."
"This is a fantastic generation. If they are kept together for 10 years under a programme, till they are 28, they will produce good results," claimed de Matos.
"The organisation of the teams in World Cup were much better than the ones in the I-League. I don't see any team stronger than Colombo U17 or Ghana U17 in the I-League. I think I-League will help Indian football if there are less foreign players playing. If you want results then you can have foreigners but if you want development, I think a maximum of three players can play in starting XI. Five foreigners in the starting lineup is too much," opined de Matos.
The young all-Indian side will be up against Gokulam Kerala FC on Friday. Head coach Bino George has been vocal about the lack of preparation time for the I-League this season.
"The All India Football Federation (AIFF) informed us that the transfer window is closed and we are late. So, we could sign only free agents. This issue is affecting our team. Our Kerala boys are also not that experienced. Only two or three of them are experienced like Sushant Matthew and Irshad. Still, we are focusing on a top-four finish. We are doing our best, but let's see."
On their next opponents in the league, he opined, "The team (Indian Arrows) is playing together for the past three-four years. They are a young team and are very fast. So we are making strategic changes accordingly. In the first match, they were excellent when they beat Chennai City 3-0. I believe only their finishing is weak."
Bino George will be without the services of his star striker Stephane Kamo Bayi who is yet to recover from the injury he picked up at the start of the season.
"We are looking forward to the next window, searching for foreigners. I am not saying that these foreigners are not good, but in the first match, three of our foreigners were out injured. When we saw their videos, they looked at a different level. They have hardly done any pre-season conditioning and have come directly to play the league. Kamo also got injured," rued George.
The scheduling of matches this season in I-League has come under intense criticism from all corners and the Gokulam coach believes proper scheduling would have brought in more spectators into the stadium.
"People flock to the ISL [Indian Super League] games more, because Sachin (Tendulkar) is coming or some film actor is coming. But here we have nothing. If the scheduling was better, I-League could have seen more crowds as all I-League teams are equally competitive."