Patience with young players is key, says Indian Arrows coach Shanmugam Venkatesh

As the man in charge, Shanmugam Venkatesh is aware the Arrows project will ultimately be judged on how many players graduate to the senior group.

Shanmugam Venkatesh has a word with his players during Indian Arrows' clash with Punjab FC in the I-League recently.   -  AIFF

Shanmugam Venkatesh had a tough start to life as coach of Indian Arrows. The team lost its first three matches in the I-League this season, even if by narrow margins. But late last month, the drought was broken as Arrows claimed a dramatic 2-1 victory over Churchill Brothers. On Sunday, the side drew with NEROCA to earn another point. A trip to Mohun Bagan is up next for Arrows, but the team will not be remotely afraid.

As the man in charge of the AIFF's developmental side, Venkatesh is aware that his role is not merely about producing results in the I-League. The Arrows project will ultimately be judged on how many players graduate to the senior group, like Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Narender Gahlot did recently.

The AIFF had no doubt that Venkatesh was the right man for the job. The former India international was assistant to senior team coach Stephen Constantine and now continues as deputy to his successor Igor Stimac. Two months ago, Venkatesh was given charge of the India U-19 and Indian Arrows teams, replacing Floyd Pinto.

"You can't expect results overnight when you are dealing with age-group teams," he tells Sportstar. "You have to deal with them with patience. Organisation and discipline are of utmost importance in youth football. In the senior team, boys know what to do and what not to do but these youngsters don't. So, they need someone who is more like a guardian as well as a coach on the field."

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It would be unfair to judge Arrows, a team full of age-group Indian players, on I-League results for rival clubs have the luxury of fielding hardened overseas professionals. But facing such tough opposition is what will aid development. "Foreigners make the major difference,” agrees Venkatesh. “But there’s very little gap between the players of Indian Arrows and the six Indian players of any other team in the I-League. For the youngsters, locking horns with professional senior teams day in and day out betters them as players. In age-group football, development comes before results. If results come along with improvement, it’s an added bonus."

The Arrows project has previously come under criticism, but Venkatesh has no doubt about its value. "It has helped Indian football hugely until now," he says. "Pronay Halder, Pritam Kotal, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Narayan Das...so many of them. Almost all of the senior team members have been Indian Arrows cadets.”

As head coach of the senior Indian team, Stimac also takes an active interest in the Arrows side. "We always communicate and I seek his inputs time and again," says Venkatesh. "All teams have to follow the same philosophy and that’s what we focus on. If we are able to lay the foundation now, we’ll be able to reap the benefits later.”

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