Igor Stimac's contract is due to expire in September 2021 and its time for the AIFF hierarchy to decide on his future.
Indian national football team head coach Igor Stimac’s contract with the Blue Tigers expires in September 2021 and it will be interesting to see what decision the AIFF hierarchy takes regarding his future. The Croatian took charge of the Indian team in May 2019, and since then he has had a topsy turvy two years. The former World Cup player was brought in as a replacement for Stephen Constantine, under whom India qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 finals and gave a good account of themselves by beating Thailand 4-1 in the first game before going down against UAE and Bahrain. After the tournament, Stimac was brought in to take the team forward from where Constantine had left and help them achieve greater heights.
Under Constantine the Indian team played a more direct style of football with less emphasis on keeping the ball. However, Constantine was very much successful in squeezing out results with the less attractive brand of football and limited resources. Meanwhile, when AIFF brought in Stimac, who is one the most high profile names to take charge as the manager of Indian team, he was tasked to make the team play a more attractive and attack minded game. The 53-year-old coach to an extent was successful in that, but failed to get the results.
In his 15 matches in charge as head coach of the team, he managed to win only 2 games, lost 7 times and tied 6 matches. The win percentage of India is just 13.33 which is way below when compared with Constantine’s tenure of 55. But numbers don’t always speak the truth, Stimac tried to play an indirect and attacking brand of football and therefore introduced players like Brandon Fernandes and Sahal Abdul Samad who had a bit more creativity and were more comfortable at keeping the ball at their feet but a little bit weak when it comes to defending. Therefore they conceded 10 goals in the first 5 games.
Under Stimac, India played 50% of its matches against teams ranked higher than them in the FIFA World ranking and India managed 3 draws in 8 of those fixtures. A draw against Asian Champions Qatar in their home soil was the most notable one. However their inability to beat lower ranked teams consistently was a drawback. India needed late goals to earn a point against Afghanistan and Bangladesh in the first leg fixtures of World Cup qualifiers. Meanwhile, captain Sunil Chheteri’s late goals earned them their first win of the qualifiers against Bangladesh but again had to settle for a 1-1 draw against Afghanistan in the final group fixture. Nevertheless India finished 3rd in the group and Stimac achieved his target of qualifying for the third round of AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers.
The former central defender has used 45 different players in his 15 games in charge, 37 of those started at various points, but only four of the 37 started in the 10 or more games. The four are Sunil Chhetri, Sandesh Jhingan, Rahul Bheke and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, except Beke the other three have been consistent performers and are likely to be the first names on the team sheet whichever manager comes in. Stimac has been consistent with his selection in the defence, the likes of Jhingan, Bheke and Subashish Bose more often or not occupying their place.
But the midfield has been the area where the Croatian is still looking for a technically gifted player. Although Sahal started the first five games, he hasn’t started in any of the last five matches. Brandon Fernandes seems to be the preferred playmaker on Stimac’s side but the Goan’s fitness and consistency is still a concern. Up front Manvir Singh and Ashique Kuruniya are regulars and have started in seven or more games. Heading into the third round of Asian Cup qualifiers (If Stimac’s contract is renewed) India will face much more quality teams and it is important for Stimac to maintain the core of the team and it’s time to be more consistent with the playing eleven and team selection.
Meanwhile, the Croatian has faced problems that no other Indian head coach has experienced. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a gap of 400 days of no football from November 2019 and March 2021. However, despite those odds, Stimac seems to have done a decent job and deserves to get a bit more time.