“Reliance Foundation Development League is a great platform for players to get the opportunity to play with ISL clubs”: Sudeva Delhi FC Head Coach Chencho Dorji

Last year’s runners-up Coach Dorji, says Sudeva Delhi FC is determined to win RFDL this year

As the third season of the Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL) is underway, all eyes will be on Sudeva Delhi FC who packed a punch to finish runners-up to Bengaluru FC in the second edition of the tournament in 2023. Grappling out of challenging groups in the Regional Qualifiers and the National Group Stage, the club battled tough competition finally losing to the Blues in the penalties of the summit clash. However, making it to the National Championship had secured them qualification to the Premier League Next Generation Cup, helping the I-League II team face English clubs like West Ham United FC and Everton FC, in addition to South African representatives and eventual champions Stellenbosch FC.

“Last year was a great season for us, especially playing in the RFDL. We were playing the Delhi Premier League, and right after that we got the chance to play in the RFDL, which was very successful. A lot of players got opportunity to play, with young players getting chances to learn and get the experience that was impeccable, particularly by playing against the Premier League teams. It was a great experience. We had a couple of players, who are not a part of the team now, but they got chances to play for big clubs after the RFDL,” Sudeva Delhi FC head coach Chencho Dorji said, recapping his side’s performances last year.

RFDL stars catch the eye of big clubs

The RFDL has emerged as a platform for emerging, breakout stars to get scouted from in the Indian footballing landscape. Several current ISL stars such as Sivasakthi Narayanan (Bengaluru FC), Sachin Suresh (Kerala Blasters FC), Brison Fernandes (FC Goa), Suhail Bhat (Mohun Bagan Super Giant), amongst others, have previously played in the RFDL, with the league effectively acting as a bridge for reserve team players to showcase their credentials in competitive playing environment and thus progress to play for the first-team in the top-tier.

Similarly for Sudeva, several players caught the attention of other clubs through their performances in the RFDL and secured transfers elsewhere after the previous season. Their skipper and centre-back Ashray Bharadwaj went on to play for Bengaluru United FC in the I-League II, but is now back with the New Delhi-based club. Similarly, the likes of Nitesh Darjee (Punjab FC), Shubho Paul (East Bengal FC), Sachin Jha (Rajasthan United FC), were instrumental in their run last campaign, and are now showcasing their skills elsewhere, even in the ISL.

“Right after the RFDL season, Ashray went to Bengaluru United FC in the I-League II, but he is back to Sudeva now and is playing for us and will play for us in the RFDL. Not only Ashray, he is a great example, Seilenthang Lotjem is now playing for Mumbai City FC, he has played in the ISL, and he scored in the RFDL last year. We have players who went to Sreenidhi Deccan FC, Shubho Paul went to East Bengal FC, and we have Nitesh who went to Roundglass Punjab FC. Clubs have seen their maturity, because the level of RFDL is very high, and hence it’s a great platform for players to get this opportunity,” Dorji said.

“RFDL provides an excellent opportunity for exchange of knowledge and expertise”

However, for Dorji, a significant takeaway from the RFDL and the subsequent Premier League Next Generation Cup was the chance that the competitions provided for a free-flowing exchange of knowledge and expertise amongst players and different stakeholders from various clubs. He was glad that the tournaments exposed his players to different playing styles and philosophies, overcoming which they encountered newer versions of themselves. He quipped that playing pressure situations is essential in building competitive footballers and that’s one of the primary benefits of the RFDL.

“Every day, every match was a new learning both in the RFDL as well as the Premier League Next Generation Cup. When we played overseas clubs in the Next Generation Cup, we got to understand the different styles of football that they have, the different mentalities that they have. The margin of error is very less in football. We learn significantly from how the others sides set up their teams and approach different matches. This exchange of knowledge is a very crucial part of the tournament. Once players experience that kind of a pressure during matches, they obviously end up learning a lot of things,” he said.

“We want to win the RFDL this year”

In the coming campaign, Dorji wants his team to go one step ahead and clinch the RFDL title for starters. However, he is refraining from looking too far ahead, and instead relying on taking the learning from the last year and building upon that to have a successful outing this time around as well. “Definitely, our expectations as a football team are to win titles. Our priority is to win this tournament, and even if we don’t win, we need to get into a position where at least we are in the finals, and we ended up losing only in the penalties. We want to create happy moments in the coming season. I am sure that we will have new ideas coming around this year, and we will use the experience garnered from the previous campaign, which is why I am very thankful to have this opportunity,” Dorji said.

RFDL 2024 started on February 14, and it is playing host to over 55 teams from different zones participating in the tournament. Clubs from ISL, I-League, I-League 2nd Division, and State Football Associations will compete through three stages, namely: Regional Qualifiers, National Group Stage and National Championship in over 300 competitive matches before the final winner is decided this time around. Bengaluru FC has won both seasons of the tournament. Will we see the Blues make it three in a row or an underdog story like Sudeva Delhi FC from 2023 climb the ladder again?

About Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL): 

RFDL is part of Reliance Foundation’s continued commitment towards supporting young footballers in India to evolve their skills by providing them more opportunities, world-class infrastructure, sports science expertise and coaching, contributing to the growth of Indian football.

Now in its third season, (RFDL) is designed to be a platform for the top U-21 football players to showcase their talent in a highly competitive environment. The tournament is India’s largest and most inclusive U-21 youth tournament comprising of over 50 teams across 9 regions in India from Hero Indian Super League, I-League division I&II and Independent Academies / Clubs nominated by the State Football Associations. With the eyes of academy coaches and scouts from both within the country and abroad, RFDL serves as the ideal platform that they can thrive upon to give wings to their fledging careers moving forward. 

Also Read: Chennaiyin FC beat Odisha FC, stop unbeaten streak and open up the league table wide open

Also Read: Maharashtra beat Karnataka 3-1 to end Santosh Trophy on a high

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