IT would be an unusual national team coach who’d speak against broadcasters dictating the sports calendar to a federation. But then, it was an unusual setting. The national coach of an Indian team was interacting with media without the involvement of the federation or its media department – not exactly how these interactions work. Not in these times.
This hour-long interaction with the national football team coach Igor Stimac – held without the blessings of All-India Football Federation (AIFF), its media department and PR firm – summed up the state of Indian football.
It is also telling that the former Croatian center-back went for a two-footed tackle on the Committee of Administrators (CoA) – appointed by the Supreme Court to streamline the AIFF constitution and hold fresh elections – for taking its own sweet time on his contract renewal.
India needs a longer season with more games. Like for 10-11 months. The calendar of football should not depend on broadcast and other things. Our players need to play at least 50 matches. We have to understand, only the national team will make people love football. Igor Stimac, India head coach
Speaking from Warsaw – he is there to attend an engagement ceremony – Stimac was spitting fire. No one was spared. FSDL, the rights owner of Indian Soccer League, the short league season, CoA and even the AIFF media department was taken to the cleaners.
It was as if the 54-year-old had been gagged by AIFF. On Saturday, he was chirping like a free bird. He had no qualms in conceding that previously he kept away from media because “his hands were tied”. But now he is in a position of strength and can speak out.
Some background to this: Stimac has been asking for a longer duration of the domestic leagues for some time now, which has not happened so far. He has also been pushing to bring in Indian-origin players, including Omid Singh, who was born in Iran. Like many of Stimac’s demands, this was shunted as the Sports Ministry stipulates that only Indian passport holders – and not Persons of India Origin and dual-citizenship holders – can represent the country.
His own contract is winding down and with no hints of a discussion on it – he has not heard from the CoA – Stimac has hit back when his team is on a high. The senior team has qualified for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup with back-to-back wins over Cambodia, Afghanistan and Hong Kong.
Lack of football knowledge
Stimac, a member of the 1998 World Cup bronze winning team, is riled the most over a comment by CoA member Dr SY Quraishi, who has said they have time to negotiate the renewal of the coach’s contract.
“It is a complete lack of knowledge about football. It is not the duration of the contract, the work starts in the pre-season. The employment is generally done by June or latest by July. I hope someone explains to him how things work in football,” the 54-year-old said.
Even if things are fluid with AIFF and his own contract almost over, the Croat still wants to continue and lead India at the AFC Asian Cup, to be held next year in September.
“I don’t want to leave with a job only half done,” he said matter-of-factly. In his own words, he has fulfilled much of the Key Result Areas (KRAs) of his contract, with the team qualifying for the Asian event. He is quite pleased with the team’s development under him so far.
“We were very clear. We wanted to have more possession, play more passes, more accuracy and creation in the final third. It took us three years to bring this energy and aggression on the field. I hope we can do well in the future,” he said of his time.
When it seemed the positives were coming on a regular basis, pop came his biggest worry. There will be only two FIFA windows for the national team before the World Cup in Qatar, to be held in November. And the coach wants the authorities to hold at least four international friendly matches then; otherwise, he reckons, all the good work will be lost.
“We should play at least four friendly matches. What I need is two weeks of time to prepare the team. It is not much to expect but we need to start talking to other teams now. Like I said, we need three days to prepare the team for the game and do better,” Stimac said.
Another sticking point for him is players getting to play only 20-25 domestic club matches in a year. This, he said, is a big disadvantage against higher-ranked opponents.
“India needs a longer season with more games. Like for 10-11 months. Young players need to be nurtured and players should get six weeks of holiday. That is enough for them if we want to become the best team in Asia,” he roared.
“The calendar of football should not depend on broadcast and other things. Our players need to play at least 50 matches. We have to understand, only the national team will make people love football,” he added.