The All India Football Federation has some long-terms plan for the current U-17 football team. After the U-17 World Cup, the team will be seen in a different role, playing alongside the I-league clubs in a bid to stay together and collectively graduate to the next level.
The technical committee headed by Shyam Thapa has during its meeting deliberated on fielding a developmental side in the I-League this year. To be coached by Luis Norton de Matos, the current under-17 coach, the I-League squad will also have players from the federation’s under-19 side. And the squad will be based in Delhi.
The AIFF’s aim behind this move is to prepare the boys for the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in 2019. This move will ensure continuous development of the team, apart from giving them significant exposure.
“The idea is not to dismantle the U-17 side. We have invested heavily. We had two options. One was to release these boys for various I-League and ISL clubs. But then, we were not sure whether these boys would get enough playing time in these clubs. We went for the second choice, which was to give birth to a completely new side. This team will be based out of Delhi and comprise the U-17 boys as well as U-18 and U-19 lads. So by 2019, when the Under-20 World Cup arrives, we don’t have to look for players again. They will also play in the Asian U-19 qualifiers. At the same time, their understanding will also develop,” Thapa has been quoted by TOI as saying.
Thapa said the committee took India U-17 coach Luis Norton de Matos’ consent while arriving at the decision. “Initially, we were the under the impression that these boys would struggle against the might of the I-League players, particularly foreigners. However, our under-17 coach Luis Norton de Matos sounded confident when he said that these boys will be able to cope with the challenges,” he added.
With the recent withdrawal of DSK Shivajians, the I-League has now been reduced to eight teams. And there has been a scope of adding new teams to the top tier league. Back in 2010, the AIFF fielded Indian Arrows in the I-League with a similar goal, but the team was disbanded after three seasons for apparent lack of sponsors.