As I (started to) write this post Ali and I are (were) entering our 11th last day in Delhi, I’m not quite sure how best to describe the conflicting feelings this brings about, our arrival seems like a long time ago now but yet it also feels like the time has flown by, a sentiment I’m sure makes no sense, this paradox is reflected in my feelings towards heading home although I’m still loving every minute of my time here and I know I’ll miss the kids and everyone here loads there is still a part of me that’s looking forward to heading home, eating fish and chips and moaning about the rain and the tube, (and seeing everyone of course).
Despite our time here drawing to a close there has definitely been no gentle winding down of our duties, with the past week being one of the most eventful of our time here so far. After our day off on Monday all attention turned to the IYSA presentation event on Wednesday evening, we were entrusted with two major duties during the event, structuring and overseeing an open training session for each age group and planning our own presentation with awards of Arsenal shirts for players who have particularly impressed us. After consulting with Anuj and the other coaches Tuesday’s rehearsal gave us the opportunity to put our session plans to the test and work through the details of the best way to position our drills. We had agreed that I would oversee the under-11’s sessions whilst Ali looked after the under-14s and Anuj took the under-16s, each session contained three separate drills which three groups were to spend about ten minutes on each before moving onto the next one. For the under-11s session I decided to take a turns session whilst Raju and Sandeep ran ‘Domes and Dishes’ and a dribbling game called crabs whilst Ali’s worked on volleying and two games addressing first touch and positioning. Despite our well laid plans the rehearsal sessions didn’t go particularly well, with the kids largely more interested in who was cheating or who stole their ball than focusing on the topic at hand, this led to both Ali and I having to remind them that they would be representing the whole programme during the presentation and any bad behaviour would reflect badly on us, them and most importantly New Delhi Josh! This warning seemed to have the desired effect as our last groups of the day set to their tasks with great enthusiasm and concentration leaving us feeling confident about Wednesday. This confidence proved to be well placed on the day as our sessions went off without a hitch and seemed to impress the key guests; New Delhi’s head of sports, a senior member of the Indian FA, Fifa’s representative for India and the surrounding nations and the head of the office building which shares the IYSA ground. After our sessions drew to a close we were soon called up for our portion of the presentation, along with Rupen our job was to talk about our experiences of the programme so far before handing out the all-important Arsenal merch! As the experienced coach Rupen led off our section, speaking well about the importance of the programme and the relevance of its relationship with Arsenal before raising probably the largest cheer of the day by mentioning India winning a world cup! Unable to follow up such a smooth performance I went for the failsafe option of hundreds of unprepared award winners over the years; the classic, conservative sweeping thank-you… and nailed it! (although, facetiousness aside I did actually feel it was important to thank the people who had brought us here, Arup, Vinod and Anuj, and the people who have contributed in welcoming us and making the experience a brilliant one; Rupen and Khilna, all the staff at IYSA and, of course, the kids themselves). After my eminently more followupable address Ali concluded our speeches be=y reiterating our combined views of the potential of the programme; the sky really is the limit. This led us on to our presentations, after much discussion in the last few weeks Ali and I decided to award four prizes in each age group, each of us awarding one MVP and one ‘Most improved’ player, after discussions lasting well into the night before we finally decided on the following players;
MVP- Hemant– Somebody whose picture has already featured in the blog as a competition winner, a role that seemed to come naturally to him throughout our time here. Despite my increasingly flagrant attempts in sessions to manufacture competition rules that would prevent him from winning he has consistently been in the top two or three players in almost every topic we have undertaken. He has, in fact, won so many things that I recently banned the other coaches from awarding him the ‘player of the day’ in order to give other people a chance. Despite this success he is still one of the hardest workers in the whole programme, staying behind after most sessions asking us to help him improve some aspect of his game. The best example of this being the lofted pass; he asked us to teach him this skill during our first week here (obviously noticing it was a speciality of mine) and now takes every opportunity to to show us his improvement!
Most improved- Aditya Mishra
Aditya is one of the hardest working kids I’ve worked with, despite travelling quite a distance, being part of a group that get two buses to come from Vasant Kunj he turns up every week without fail and is an absolute pleasure to teach, and just to be around. His great desire to learn has been reflected in his massive improvement over the last couple of months to become one of the best players in his age group and training on several occasions with the u-14 special group.
MVP- Ramesh Malik- Another member of the Vasant Kunj posse, and (I know its sounding old by now) another pleasure to teach! Makes up for his small stature with brilliant technical proficiency and a sharp footballing brain. Has thrived in the few sessions he’s had with the special group, huge desire to win was illustrated as he was inconsolable after his team lost on pens in the u-11 final… in the words of the great man (TH14) ‘Passion for the game is passion for the game’
Most Improved- Juvraj
Despite only really coming to our attention a month or so into our coaching stint since that point Juvraj has been a player who has really shone, improving hugely in a short period of time. Always smiling, he is somebody whose hard work and desire to learn has seen him quickly move up the age groups; he’s now a regular in our special group team and even managed to win a ‘player of the day’ award in a mixed session with the Level 1 u-16s, the most advanced group in the programme.
Another player regularly mentioned in the blog Prakash is, simply put, an absolute legend. He has excelled in sessions since the first week with his natural footballing ability, fantastic attitude and excellent leadership skills; skills which made him the obvious choice for our special group team captain. He reads the game perhaps better than anyone else in the programme and can spot, and execute a great range of long and short range passes, attributes which have meant that he has thrived in his new role as the defensive midfield pivot of our team, having moved inside from the wing. Simply put a brilliant player and great kid.
Most Improved- Ajay.
Ajay is someone who was always a good player in the league set-up but over the last few months has developed into one of the leading players in the age group, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact he’s still only 11! A great listener, he has a natural understanding for the game and a sound technique which have consistently placed him amongst the top few performers in the majority of sessions we’ve done. His innate feel for the game has also helped in his transition from an attacking midfield player to left-back, a position he has taken to with aplomb, making the spot on the left side of the special group’s defence his own.
Along with Prakash, has possibly attended more sessions than anyone else we’ve worked with, recently even attending our sessions at Moti Bagh, despite not actually going to that school! (which means waking up at 6am in his school holidays!). Possibly the most passionate player on the whole programme and posses with an unparalleled desire to improve. This passion coming both in practice as he is always testing out his new tricks and asking for advice and on the pitch where he throws himself into challenges against players twice his size and always demands the ball. A true embodiment of the ‘Josh’ (fighting spirit) championed by the IYSA.
Most Improved- Vivek
A player for whom the most improved award could’ve been invented, after not making the cut for the special group team in our first game he worked really hard in training and displayed a huge improvement, particularly in attacking sessions to secure a place in the starting eleven at the second time of asking in his new position of centre forward where he cemented his place for future games with an excellent performance topped off with a goal.
The U-16 awards, given out by Rupen were awarded to Ashutosh, a centre midfield player for the u-16 L.1 team and possibly the best player in the whole programme, Rupen refers to him as ‘little Jack Wilshire’ , an apt comparison as he utilises exceptional technique and intelligence to outmanoeuvre players far older and bigger than himself, such as a certain English coach in players vs coaches games! Finally the u-16 most improved award went to Amit Rohilla, a member of our special group team who also appears for the L.1 u-16s and thoroughly excels in both teams, our vice-captain; excellent player, even better person.
After our speeches were finished and the shirts were given out the remainder of the presentation was left to speeches from the various chief guests, although as these were in Hindi we couldn’t understand them we have been reliably informed that they all spoke well of the programme, particularly the minister for sport in Delhi who even talked about the possibility of a future residential scheme at which there could also be provision to work on the kids’ nutrition, a concept which, if it ever came to fruition would prove hugely beneficial. After the speeches were over and in-between posing for pictures with various family members, signing shirts, scraps of paper and refusing to sign skin (no, not like that…grow up) we were introduced to the Fifa delegate, Sharji (or some other collection of letters that could be put together to produce a sound vaguely similar to that one). After talking warmly about the programme and discussing Arsenal’s season so far he ended our conversation by inviting us to his office the next day for lunch, and so it was that on Thursday afternoon Ali and I took our first footsteps in the corridors of football power by visiting Shar Ji’s reasonably small but very neat and modern office situated in Dwarka, another region of South Delhi.
After a warm welcome we were soon discussing a wide range of footballing issues over a lunch of Pizza Hut, from the state of Indian football to his recent trips to Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bhutan amongst others! It was whilst discussing these trips that we moved onto the subject of Sepp Blatter, a man whom he had just spent the best part of two weeks travelling around the region with. Now, like any right-minded football fan I have certain opinions of Mr Blatter that are probably not best voiced within FIFA premises and was eager to find out more about the man, and Shar Ji’s opinion of him. However despite a number of leading questions encouraging him to confirm my view that he is a corrupt, joke of a leader who’s continued employment makes a mockery of the whole organisation all we got from Shar Ji was praise on the man’s oratory abilities which, to be fair, are undoubtedly impressive. Despite this minor disappointment the meeting as a whole was a really good experience. We have had a number of surreal experiences over the course of the Gap Year Programme which have made us sit back and wonder how the hell we reached that point but for me I think talking football with a member of the world’s governing body in an office in New Delhi over a chicken supreme has got to top them all, madness! Anyway we left the office happy and full in the possession of a FIFA pen and badge each, a new admiration of some of the work that FIFA does and full of respect for at least one member of their organisation……but still, Qatar?!