The All India Football Federation's (AIFF) regional academy boys from Navi Mumbai have won all their matches in the U-19 I-League and have already qualified for it's final round which will take place in Jamshedpur. And while football teams go on a winning run pretty often, there's something special about this team — the regional academy boys are all at least three years younger than their counterparts in the league.
In a bid to fast-track and expose the 97' born players, the AIFF decided to enter the team in the U-19 I-League and their quality has been proven by some brilliant results against teams like Mumbai FC and Pune FC.
Pulling the strings in midfield for them is Bidyananda Singh and in the heart of defence is Gursimrat Singh — two boys who were part of the five-player Indian contingent that was sent to the Nike All Asia camp in Qatar — where talent from China, India, Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia trained under coaches from Manchester United, Barcelona and Inter Milan.
Both Simrat and Bidya were picked in the final XI of the camp, with the latter also being voted the best player at the camp by Barcelona's coaches. The Blaugrana have asked AIFF to send them regular reports of the player's progress while Simrat has been the subject of interest from Inter Milan — with the Italian club promising to send a scout to see him play his next international match. The academy is in constant contact with both clubs over email.
Both players also impressed Nike representatives present and get sponsored equipment from the sports goods giant.
"It's good to be noticed but the immediate focus remains the national team and making it to the elite academy. We can seriously think about clubs only if we make the cut for the national team," says Simrat, who also shed light on the different types of training methods used by the three clubs: "Inter's coaches were stressing on individual attention while Barcelona's on passing and movement. United's coaches focussed more on the physical side of the game. I can't really pick a favourite!"
But it's easy to see whose training Bidya liked the best — the Manipuri wears a sparkly Barcelona ear-stud: "I usually play defensive midfield but they played me as striker and I did well. If you ask me the primary difference between such a camp and training in India — it's the quality of the players. All eleven players were of the same caliber and the interchange of positions helped out overall game."
Both players, however, do not believe that coaches in India aren't capable of conducting drills like that in the country. While Simrat says that it's more about the facilities that dictate the type of play and coaching here, Bidya maintains that coaches in India try — but sometimes it just doesn't work unless one type of playing system permeates through all academies in the country: "Everybody doesn't notice, but there is one playing style which is followed across all the AIFF academies at least. What that means is when we graduate to the elite academy in Goa, we won't have to adjust to a different style — Wim sir (Koevermans), Scott sir (O'Donnell) and Rob sir (Baan) have made sure of that."
"You won't see our goalkeepers or defenders ever play a long ball or make a clearance unless absolutely necessary," Simrat adds.
Firstpost attended the team's match against PIFA U-19 on Saturday and a training session on Sunday too — and the urgency to play quick short passes and keep the ball on the ground was heavily stressed on.
Bidya's journey has been remarkable — he has represented India at every level from U-13 till U-17 and it's been a year since these two have gone home. But Gursimrat, who also skippered Tata's India team to victory at the Arsenal U-15 International Soccer Fest in England in 2011, says that they're used to such a life: "We miss home, but football is our first love."
If a foreign move materialises, then they're certainly ready for the challenge.
DOB: 2nd November 1997
Weight: 70.6 kgs
Position: RB, CB
DOB: 27th November 1997
Weight: 67 kgs
Postion: DM, CM, ST
The writer tweets @TheFalseNo9
Updated Date: Feb 26, 2014 09:50 AM