Sudeva Delhi FC has been keen to give the younger members of the squad match experience this I-League, keeping the future in mind. 16-year-old Shubho Paul, who notched his first goal against TRAU in the team’s final first phase encounter, will wear the captain’s armband in the match against Chennai. Coach Chencho Dorji feels it will make the prodigy stronger, score more goals.

Sudeva Delhi FC Media

“It’s all about staying positive and trying to end the league well,” coach Chencho Dorji says when posed the difficult question of how to keep motivation up, with nothing much to play for. With Sudeva Delhi FC ready to face Chennai City FC in their first game of the second phase in the I-League, this question has been a constant. How do you keep a team not threatened by relegation and out of contention for the championship going at full tilt?

“It is player specific motivation,” Dorji says. He admits that at this stage of the season, many players will have to reassess their own personal motivations from the league and adjust their performances accordingly. The management, for their part, is looking to give younger players more minutes, groom them for the future.

“Obviously we hope that the young players are now hungry and motivated to give their best and prove their mettle,” Dorji says. “From us, we are motivating them in different ways. We want to impress upon some of them the huge opportunity they have been given, and to give others confidence, just let them play and get some minutes.”

If the previous games are any indication, the policy of giving youngsters a chance will continue. The club has given all bar one of their academy graduates starts in the I-League this season. Of all of them, the one who has been most under the spotlight is 16-year-old Shubho Paul, the India U-16 prodigy who has not just started but also notched his first goal in the I-League — against TRAU in the team’s final first phase encounter.

Dorji has taken the brave and surprising decision to hand the teenager the captain’s armband for the next game against Chennai. It is a decision that will baffle many, but he insists it has been done to give the kid confidence. “We hope it will motivate him to do better and play better and hopefully get a few more goals.”

Shubho, himself, was caught unaware by the whole situation and has embraced it by wilfully ignoring it. “I look up to all the senior players in the squad,” he said. “While it’s an honour to wear the armband, I will look for inspiration around me, from players like Kean, who is always advising me on the pitch.”

Dorji is hoping this game against Chennai will spark a much-needed turnaround for his side, which has lost their last three games in a row. Their last win came against Chennai City at the VYBK at the beginning of February, a 4-0 victory that had sparked the belief of a higher table finish. Since then the slide has been sudden and unfortunate. Despite the big performances and having controlled a majority of their matches the team has been unfortunate to end up on the losing side. 

“We know how Chennai play and hopefully we can play the way we did the last time we faced them,” Dorji says. “We will look different on the team sheet, but I think they will too. Both teams will put upsides with young faces in their ranks. The question is, which of these youngsters are more motivated. I hope it’s ours.”