Players are improving their decision making: Arthur Papas

 Nilanjan Datta

Arthur Papas, India’s U-22 Coach who has been in charge of All India Football Federation’s developmental side Pailan Arrows needs to be credited for the performance of the Arrows this season. In a freewheeling interview to, Papas speaks at length about his vision for Pailan, the challenges, his dependence on video analysis and also on his India U-22 wards Jeje Lalpekhlua, Lalrindika Ralte, Manandeep Singh amongst others. EXCERPTS:

Pailan Arrows stay the flavour of the season in the I-League so far? What do you attribute it to?
External expectations are something which we cannot control. Football, like many things in life, is extremely fickle so we only concern ourselves with meeting the expectations and goals we have set for ourselves internally. For this part, yeah, I am satisfied.

I’ve been saying that the system we have put in place has a higher emphasis on performance over results — more so because of the age of my players. We have certain performance indicators which we look to meet in every training session and in every game. We are confident that if we can meet them, the results will continue to improve in the long run.

What has pleased me the most is the way we have evolved our playing style. This was something identified as crucial and full credit goes to the players because they have kept their minds open along with complete dedication and tremendous discipline, which obviously, has made my job much easier.

Tactically we are maturing. The players are slowly improving their decision-making in all moments of the game. Also, our football conditioning was identified as a critical area which needed to improve. Now the team can make a higher amount of high intensity football actions repeatedly over the course of the game.

Do you ever feel depressed playing the I-League without a foreign recruit in your team?
No, not at all! Quite simply my job is not the same as the job of the coach at any other club. My job is based around developing and exposing the talented Indian youth players aged from 18 to 21. These are critical years and that’s the reason why the Arrows were formed. The idea stays to give as much exposure to competitive football to as many players.

Having said that, it stays a huge challenge for them to play every week against Clubs which have Senior pros and boast of quality foreign recruits. But in the long term it’s serving the purpose and this has to remain the core focus.

Most feel Pailan Arrows should have a positive result against in-form star-studded Prayag United. Given the fact that it’s a bunch of youth boys, do close results have an effect on the morale of the team?
Full credit to Prayag United on the day as they brought to limelight the difference between a team which is still maturing compared to a fully matured senior team. They did what they had to do to gain the full three points.

I was proud of my team because they pushed Prayag to their absolute limits and in the end lacked just a little composure at a critical stage during the match. These types of setbacks form the basis of your character and five days later we travelled to Goa and recorded Arrows’ first ever win amidst the Sun and Sand. All these make me believe the moral, character, and ability to overcome obstacles is improving.

Video analysis has been an integral part of your coaching even since the U-22 AFC Championship. How does it prove beneficial?
Video analysis is a simple yet effective coaching aid that I have incorporated into all my teams throughout my career. If you ask me, I will tell you that it stays a must for me if you are a professional footballer. I find it extremely beneficial on many levels and the boys have become very receptive to this form of feedback in order to improve their performance.

We have even reached a stage where they come to us requesting individual clips of their games which show how they have embraced this method of feedback to improve performance.

Many of your wards in Pailan were part of the India U-22 bunch which performed exceptionally well in the AFC Championship. How much do you see them maturing in the I-League?
It’s another step forward for them in their football development. Otherwise the Arrows wouldn’t have participated in the I-League. You can never give an exact time as to when an individual will mature as a player. But by continually exposing them to environments that are challenging, it forces them to adapt and overcome; or else you get left behind. Every single individual matures differently and it’s our job to create an environment that promotes this as well as giving them the tools to fulfill their potential.

Leaving aside Pailan Arrows, how much inspiring is it to see your India U-22 wards make a mark in the domestic season?
It’s been one of the highlights of my stint in India time so far. For example I’ve seen Manandeep Singh being a part of the Senior National Team, Lalrindika Ralte help East Bengal to their Federation Cup victory, Jeje Lalpekhlua returning to the high levels he set a couple years ago & Gurpreet Singh Sandhu showing his improvement. It’s great for Indian Football! I thoroughly enjoyed working with these boys and I hope they continue to prosper in the future.

My real hope is that I-League clubs are monitoring this current batch of Arrows players just as closely. If I was in charge of an I-League club I would know by now the first place where I should be looking out for players.