Luis Norton de Matos was appointed as the head coach of the India Under-17 team in March after the All India Football Federation (AIFF) parted ways with Nicolai Adam.
After making his way to Goa to have a first look at the squad, the Portuguese coach expressed his surprise with the heights of certain players in select positions. It is reliably learnt that he, along with AIFF Director of Scouting, Abhishek Yadav invited at least 50 players for trials.
Practice matches were being played with Norton mixing the set of players to see what could possibly be the best combination and gave a good look at the players. They also played against Minerva FC, the reigning I-League Under-16 champions, and lost 1-0 to them.
One look at the final squad of 21 members and it’s not too difficult to look at the areas in which he has changed the make-up of the team.
Almost 50 per cent of the team has been altered in the last six months.
Prabhusukhan Gill was the fourth goalkeeper in the squad and was struggling to get playing time under Adam. At times he was also used as a makeshift centre-back and the Punjab custodian was almost on his way out. However, since Norton took charge, the goalkeeper has played in several key friendlies such as the 0-0 draw against Macedonia in June.
After the disastrous 2017 Granatkin Cup in Russia, right-back Hendry Antolay was to be released. Thereafter, Adam was released from his duties which gave a second life tothe Bangalore-based defender. He managed to impress Norton and thereby, maintained his place in the squad.
Namit Deshpande, who had first auditioned under Adam in Brazil, was all set to miss the Under-17 World Cup as the German coach wanted the Mumbai-born defender to join his squad earlier. Deshpande didn’t wish to drop out of high school and mentioned of his desire to be a part of the team only in 2017 which didn’t go down well with Adam. The Portuguese coach was flexible in his approach as he was keen on the player to be a part of his squad which allowed Namit enough time to focus on his academics.
Goalkeeper Sunny Dhaliwal came down to Goa in April to be a part of the trials and Norton was convinced of his quality. He only joined the team in Mexico on August 1st this year, less than three months before the World Cup was to kick-off.
Rahul Kannoly Praveen was relegated to the ‘B’ team last year and later was asked to train with the Under-19 squad. Same was the case with striker Rahim Ali who was in the ‘B’ team and trained with Floyd Pinto of India Under-19.
Nongdamba Naorem, Jackson Singh, Mohammed Shahjahan and Anwar Ali were picked up from Minerva FC.
What’s notable is the fact two of the three goalkeepers are new in the squad with both being close to six feet tall. The two centre-backs, namely Anwar and Namit have towering physiques. Hendry too is among the taller members in the squad.
In the midfield apart from Amarjit Singh, the only other player of notable height is Jackson Singh who was roped in only six months before by Norton.
Upfront Rahim Ali is amongst the strongest players in the squad with a good physique and height.
Apart from Shahjahan, Naorem and to an extent Rahul, rest of the seven included in the squad by Norton are tall.
Norton has changed the core of the squad to his liking with height being an important factor. The full-backs and wingers so to say are positions in which Norton hasn’t tinkered much as he is of the opinion that height isn’t a crucial factor in those areas.
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