'U-17 players are a spirited bunch'

'U-17 players are a spirited bunch'
A man renowned for bamboozling rival defences and who once held the record for the fastest international goal (12 seconds) is donning a slightly more mellow hat these days.

Inivalappil Mani Vijayan combined with another star Bhaichung Bhutia during the 90s and early 2000s to form what turned out to be one of India’s most successful strike partnership.

Gifted with skills very few possess, Vijayan went on to score 40 goals from 79 appearances for his country in a career that stretched from 1989 to 2003.

He had an enviable record in his club career too, and in February this year, Vijayan was appointed by the Sports Ministry as the National Observer for football, designated with chalking a development path for the future.

In Bengaluru for India’s AFC Asian Cup clash with Macau, the man from Thrissur was lavish in his praise of the fighting spirit India’s under-17 side displayed in a 2-1 loss to Colombia in the World Cup.

“The trend we used to see with Indian teams earlier was that they lack the spirit to fight back after going behind. These boys are different. They really showed stomach for a fight and were unfortunate not to get a result.

“What we need to improve on is our physical aspect. When you look at the likes of Germany or Ghana, they have towering players and that makes a difference,” he said.

As a National Observer, Vijayan’s role includes scouting players but with the under-17 team, he opines that the foundation of their game is solely based on team-work.

“I wouldn’t say that we have any outstanding players in the side. They are very good players but what helps them play the way they do is how well they gel.”

The next step for the Indian colts will be to move up the ladder and play in higher age groups and Vijayan is of the firm belief that a lot of them are showing promise and can seamlessly make the switch.

“A lot of these boys have the potential to graduate to the under-20s and even the national set-up in the next few years. Considering we have someone like Stephen Constantine, who encourages youth, at the helm, it will provide these boys with a good opportunity,” he concluded.

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