February 28, 2021

How I-League clubs with an all-Indian squad have fared in the past!

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With Sudeva opting for an all-Indian squad in their debut I-League bout, Goal takes a look at how clubs with a similar stance coped in the past

Sudeva FC announced that they will make their maiden appearance in the 2020-21 I-League with an adventurous decision to field an all-Indian squad.

The Delhi-based outfit were handed a spot in the I-League by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) recently.

“I have a strong conviction that we will be able to perform much better than people expect from a side without foreign players. It could also be an eye opener for me but anyhow,” co-owner of the club, Anuj Gupta told Goal while explaining of the club’s decision. The coronavirus pandemic also being another factor why the club chose the policy of playing with only Indian players.

Goal hereby lists out instances how teams have fared when they have fielded all-Indian squads in the I-League.

AIFF XI/Pailan Arrows (2010-2013)

The first team to sport an all-Indian squad in the I-League dates back to the 2010-11 season. A pilot project of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) comprising of India U-19 and U-23 was formed in 2010 and was called AIFF XI. They were initially supposed to be play in the 2010-11 I-League second division. But with Mahindra United disbanding their side, the Indian FA pitted the young Indian team among the big boys in the I-League in what proved to be quite a fruitful season for the AIFF XI. 

Under Scottish coach Desmond Bulpin, the squad comprised the likes of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Pritam Kotal, Prabir Das, Lalrindika Ralte and Jeje Lalpekhlua and earned a respectable ninth place finish in the 14-team league with 29 points from 26 games. The AIFF XI recorded seven wins with Jeje scoring four times each in the victories over Air India (5-2) and Mohun Bagan (5-4) to amass 13 goals in the season.

The team played as Pailan Arrows for the next couple of seasons due to sponsor commitments. Sukhwinder Singh was in charge in 2011-12 season and they finished 13th among 14 teams, avoiding relegation thanks to their immunity. It must be noted that the Arrows lost the likes of Jeje, Lalrindika and Gurpreet before that season. CS Sabeeth finished as the joint-top Indian scorer with nine goals that included a hat-trick against Chirag United Kerala.

Arthur Papas-led Arrows mustered a slightly better performance in the 2012-13 I-League with wherein they avoided relegation by merit on account of finishing eighth with 23 points from 26 outings. Halicharan Narzary and Milan Singh were the topscorers for the side that season.

The club was disbanded in 2013.

Indian Arrows (2017- )

After India successfully hosted the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, the AIFF brought the project back. The idea was to give the players who participated in the World Cup apart from a few promising youngsters competitive football and instated the team in 2017-18 I-League as the Indian Arrows.

Though the Arrows were praised for their competitive showings in 2017-18 I-League season, Luis Norton de Matos’ boys finished bottom of the pile with 15 points from 18 games. Most of the players from that squad have by now earned themselves first team contracts with Indian Super League (ISL) outfits while the likes of Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Narender Gahlot have even broken into the Indian national team under Igor Stimac.

In the 2018-19 I-League, under Floyd Pinto, the Arrows finished eighth among 11 teams. Players like Prabhsukhan Gill, Boris Singh, Jitendra Singh, Ashish Rai, Amarjit and Rahul Praveen shined as they won six matches and drew three. The Indian Colts even qualified for the 2019 Super Cup by defeating Kerala Blasters 2-0 before being ousted 3-0 by eventual champions FC Goa.

The Indian Arrows were placed at the bottom in the 2019-20 season when the season was cancelled after 16 matches due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This time, a new brand of Indian youngsters flourished under the guidance of Shanmugam Venkatesh. Players like Lalbiaklua Jongte, Ashish Mishra, Hormipam Ruivah, Givson Singh, Ricky Shabong, Ayush Adhikari and Vikram Singh Pratap all caught the eye.

It must be noted that the Arrows squad kept changing significantly every season.

Shillong Lajong (2018-2019)

Shillong Lajong fielded an all Indian squad in the I-League this season after the management of the Meghalayan outfit decided not to sign any overseas player.

However, the bold move to field a squad comprising mostly of academy talents didn’t pan out well for them as they got relegated that season. Lajong lost 11 of their 12 matches in a winless streak of matches. They finished the season with a mere 11 points from 20 matches with a win-draw-loss record of 3-2-15 amid a number of lopsided results and a goal difference reading a negative 33.

All eyes will now be on Sudeva FC’s aspirations of doing well with an all-Indian line-up and their dream of nurturing youngsters to provide for a supply line for the Indian national team.