The new year would see Indian Arrows attempt a makeover in its maiden I-League season, when it takes on table-topper Kingfisher East Bengal (KEB) in the I-League here on Tuesday.
With both sides settling for contrasting draws with an identical scoreline in their last games, it would be up to the Arrows to begin 2018 on a winning note.
Coach Luis Norton de Matos would be back on the bench after missing the previous encounter against Shillong Lajong due to personal reasons. However, the absence of goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh is bound to affect the side's preparations.
Dheeraj left the AIFF developmental side after his contract ran out on December 31, unwilling to be tied down for another three years - preferring to try out his luck in Europe instead.
While KEB coach Khalid Jamil admitted his team had the advantage in Dheeraj's absence, Matos brushed the matter aside with a curt, "I don't depend on any one player."
'Not the best decision'
However, he did make his displeasure clear. “At this level, around the players, there are a lot of people, agents and most of the times, these people don’t know or don’t understand what is important for development of a player.
"I don’t think it is the best decision for his career. I will be happy if I am proved wrong,” he said when asked about the move.
Dheeraj became the face of Indian junior football after the Under-17 World Cup, earning praise from all quarters. He was also crucial in Arrows' 1-1 draw against Mohun Bagan in the previous game.
While Dheeraj has opted to try out for Scotland’s Motherwell FC, he would have to wait until he turns 18 - in September - and Matos felt missing out on any competition for seven months was not ideal at this stage for the youngster.
'Arrows a genuine threat'
With seven points in six games, Arrows is currently seventh on the table, seven adrift of top-placed KEB, which has lost just one game so far.
The domestic heavyweight side, however, is yet to win the National Football League since it was rechristened as the I-League in 2007.
It was forced to split points with defending champion Aizawl FC in its previous game.
“They (Arrows) play as a unit on the field. It is evident that they are hungry and are a genuine threat for us, we are not taking them lightly,” Jamil said.
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