As he prepares for the opening match of his second season of the I-League, Amarjit Kiyam feels he has a point to prove. The midfielder for the Indian Arrows knows they are only playing this season of the I-League by virtue of being the developmental team of the AIFF. The fact remains that they had finished dead last in last season's table. Since they couldn't be relegated, that sword instead fell on Churchill Brothers, who had finished two points above them.
But Kiyam, the captain of his team, assures they won't need any favours this time around. "We finished in the bottom of the table last time but this time we are ready," he says. "All the players and staff are ready to go. This time we want to finish in the top five of the table."
That torrid last season, he explains, was a huge learning curve for the team that comprised players who had represented India at the U-17 World Cup. "We were very inexperienced," he says. "We had moved from playing U-17 football to playing against seniors. There was no margin for mistakes there. What we learned from the last season is that we are conceding goals due to silly mistakes that we are doing. In one game against Neroca, our defender [Anwar Ali] flicked to the goalkeeper and instead the ball went into goal. There were miss passes that would directly result in a goal."
The players are older, wiser and they insist better prepared this time. "We didn't get a lot of time to get used to playing against seniors," he says. "This time we have got a lot more exposure and have had plenty of time to prepare. We were playing the Cotif tournament, and then we played the 4-nations tournament after that."
Kiyam's teammate and the team's goalkeeper Prabhsukhan Singh concurs with that statement. "I didn't get a chance to play at the World Cup but I got a lot of game time with the Arrows," says Singh. "What has helped us most of all is that we have got a lot of playing time. That has helped us improve. All our players were shuffled and that gave each of us an opportunity. Coach [Floyd Pinto] said that he wasn't interested in just 11 good players but wanted 25 solid players for India. That gave each of us an opportunity."
The players believe they have grabbed that opportunity. "Since last year we have improved technically, tactically and physically," he says. "When we first played in the I-League, we would take pressure very easily and that would show in how we communicated to our teammates or even how our body reacted. We would get frustrated easily. Now we know how to play against a senior player and when to release the ball. We know how to slow a game down if we have to. Now we know how to play with pressure."
The change will be visible, Kiyam says, in the side's playing philosophy. "This time we have worked on formations," he says. "Last season we were very defensive. That was because we were afraid of making silly mistakes. Even if we got a draw we were very happy. This time that isn't enough. We will be a lot more attacking because this time we are playing for results."
It's those results they are looking at -- and not casting envious glances towards the richer prizes on offer with the Indian Super League, which will run simultaneously to their own matches. Many of the players had been signed with the Arrows for three-year contracts (although Kiyam had been signed by ISL's Jamshedpur FC and is only on loan for this season) and will in some time have to think of their future prospects. For Kiyam, though, all that can wait.
"I don't know what is in the future," he says. "I want to create history this year itself. If we do well, it will help us in the future because when we go to the ISL, players and coaches will respect us because we have done something important before we came there."