Stimac: ‘With proper work, Arrows can win I-League in a year’

India’s chief coach Igor Stimac said the foreigners playing in the I-League were not superior to the U-22 players from Indian Arrows.

India coach Igor Stimac during the I-League match between Chennai City FC and Indian Arrows at Cooperage Stadium im Mumbai.   -  Prashant Nakwe

National coach Igor Stimac has watched three back-to-back matches featuring Indian Arrows (IA) at the Cooperage ground. He is looking for players with potential to compete for places in the Indian squad. “I follow the I-League as I am looking for players.”

He attends IA training sessions at the venue between league games, doing his part in player development. “I tried to help them understand certain movements and I am happy to help when free.”

READ: Igor Stimac worried about lack of Indian strikers

The Arrows is made up of age group players (U-22 this season) as part of talent development by the All India Football Federation. Captained by Vikram Pratap Singh and coached by ex-internationals S. Venkatesh (head coach), Mahesh Gawli (assistant coach), the team registered back-to-back losses against East Bengal and Chennai City FC before playing out a draw with Punjab FC. It is currently placed at the bottom of the I-League table with two wins, three draws and 10 losses. The wins came in away games against Churchill Brothers and East Bengal.

Stimac observed: “I watched every match of Indian Arrows and can say that in a year they will win the I-League with Indian players only. These young lads will win the league with 12 months of proper work (on them).”

The Croatian, appointed India chief coach last year, felt that foreign players in I-League were not superior to these U-22 local players. “Why don’t we trust our kids? What is wrong with us?,” he asked.

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The I-League is a predecessor of the Indian Super League and allows five foreign players.

The federation decided to field a developmental side, Indian Arrows, in the I-League to keep the India U-17 World Cup players together and help them gain experience in a senior league after FIFA U-17 WC in 2017.

The ISL clubs started signing these youngsters on contract, but could not guarantee them first team places. Midfielder Amarjit Singh, an ex-Arrows player, is among the probables for the seniors camp before the World Cup Qualifier against Qatar in Bhubaneswar.

Stimac explained the decision to include a 19-year-old in the seniors camp. “Amarjit is aggressive and can handle physical play.”

The coach felt club managements should trust young Indians instead of banking on foreigners. “The foreigners playing here are not Ronaldo or Messi. We have players who are between 36-38 years who are earning their last money here. Some of them are really good, I have nothing against them but most of them are not good enough. We need to find a way to change things.”

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