India national coach Igor Stimac.(AIFF)
India national coach Igor Stimac.(AIFF)

There will be lots of changes to the national team: Igor Stimac

  • Before he starts work with a preparatory camp likely to be in Dubai from March, Stimac spoke about why he is happy with what he has seen in ISL this season and more in this exclusive interview.
By Dhiman Sarkar, Bhargab Sarmah
UPDATED ON FEB 24, 2021 10:01 AM IST

On a sunny morning from his home in the seaside city of Split, Croatia, India national coach Igor Stimac said the unscheduled vacation from March 15 last year has been less boring since the Indian Super League (ISL) began.

Before he starts work with a preparatory camp likely to be in Dubai from March, Stimac spoke about why he is happy with what he has seen in ISL this season and more in this exclusive interview.

Excerpts:

What went wrong in the World Cup qualifiers after the historic draw in Qatar?

The (structural) problems we are facing through our competitions and leagues came and produced the bill. We can say that we transformed the Indian national team from one that was not organised and not insisting on possession to a team which is trying to hold the ball, trying to hurt the opponent in an organised way. It’s a long process. When I started work (in 2019), the players came back from their holidays after not kicking the ball for four or five months.

I had a couple of camps before our first games, which weren’t enough to prepare the team physically, tactically and psychologically for games like these. But we made unbelievable progress, if you look at the pass accuracy, ball possession—everything but scoring. And scoring (is a) problem is coming out of the ISL structure because no Indian is playing as centre-forward.

Do Indian strikers not get opportunities because six foreigners can be in the playing 11 in ISL?

I wouldn’t criticise ISL on any issue here. Each club is trying to do its best for its own and to prepare for the Champions League and AFC Cup. But from my and the national team’s point of view, we are insisting on a 3+1 (including an Asian player) foreign players’ policy. Even when 3+1 comes, each club will have one foreign centre-back, one foreign offensive midfielder and one foreign forward.

But alongside these players, there will be Indian centre-backs, two or three Indian midfielders and there will be even one forward playing alongside a foreign player. When you have six or seven foreign players, one foreign forward is going out and another foreign forward is coming on. That is not doing any good to the national team.

Have you been able to watch ISL in Croatia?

I have watched every single game. Since the ISL started, I am a happy man because I got bored without football, without doing my work and not having certainty about what’s going to happen.

Have new players caught your eye in ISL?

Many. If you compare the last national team which was playing to now, we are facing some problems and there will be lots of changes.

I will just mention a few names: Adil (Khan) is not playing regular football, (Michael) Soosairaj is injured, Udanta (Singh) and Ashique (Kuruniyan) are not there at all. Ashique because of injury when he was playing really well and Udanta cannot find himself (regularly in the starting XI) at the moment. Farukh (Choudhary) changed the club (from Jamshedpur FC to Mumbai City FC) and is not playing regular football. Amarjit Singh came from injury; he is still getting a few minutes on the pitch. So, the places are there to be taken. More than anything, I am very happy to see many youngsters emerging.

Could you name some uncapped players who have impressed you?

Suresh (Wangjam), (Akash) Mishra, Ashish Rai… At the moment, what makes me a very happy man is when I watch Hyderabad play. Because for most of the games in this season, they didn’t use more than three foreign players and look at the football they produce.

Their two full-backs, they are 19 years old—Mishra and Rai (he is 21). They have a centre-back, (Chinglensana) Singh, who came from Goa, who is good with passing, still needs to improve on some defending. Then you have (Mohammed) Yasir playing there in the middle, really nice. I enjoy Liston’s (Colaco) game also.

How good is it to see Indian attacking players such as Manvir Singh and Halicharan Narzary getting games?

It is giving me satisfaction. Manvir made a good choice changing the club (from FC Goa to ATK Mohun Bagan). In most of the games he has been performing really well. He has scored a few goals which is very good. But he is also the player with energy who can hold the ball, who can pass and who understands the game. I can tell you that I didn’t make any wrong judgment when I saw him the first time. He has everything which a player needs for the national team.

What needs to change in the structure for India to qualify for the World Cup in future?

From next year (2021-22) we are going to see more games (in a season) and less foreign players. Also, every country in the football world is using what we call PIOs (Person of Indian Origin) who are playing abroad. We need to do everything possible to give them a chance to represent their country. The gap between us and the top (Asian) countries is big. I am concentrating on closing this gap (by 2026) and bring India into top 10 in Asia so that we get better chances of competing in future World Cup qualifiers.

FOLLOW THIS LINK TO LISTEN TO THE FULL DISCUSSION WITH IGOR STIMAC: https://www.htsmartcast.com/episodes-listing/sports/kicks-for-free-5006402/

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