India have finally appointed a successor to Stephen Constantine in the form of experienced Croatian coach Igor Stimac. The 51-year-old's primary ambit will be to build on the progress the national team has made in the recent years and become a competitive force on the continent.
What was the process behind the selection of Stimac and why was he chosen ahead of numerous other candidates?
The AIFF made its decision after undertaking a thorough and probably the most extensive selection process to appoint the India team coach ever.
After Stephen Constantine tendered his resignation after the Asian Cup in January 2019, the AIFF invited applications for the post of the India senior men's national team coach and set out a list of qualifications it expected from prospective applicants.
These were the main criteria that the AIFF expected the candidates to fulfill:
a) Minimum of 10-15 years of coaching experience at the elite youth and senior level football
b) Experience as the first team coach (head coach) of the senior national team will be preferred with experience of coaching in the world cup and continental championship qualifiers an advantage
c) Minimum of AFC/UEFA Pro license or equivalent
d) Experience as a football player (not necessarily at the highest national level)
e) Leadership, strategic and networking skills
The Indian FA received around 280 applications from interested coaches at first. The AIFF think-tank set out to work and filter the candidates.
One of the very first filter was selecting only coaches with UEFA Pro-License qualification. Around 120 of the the 280 applicants had the required qualification and made it past the first filter.
The 120 coaches were then divided into four categories or four pots:
Pot 1: Coaches who have been in charge of a top national team and had the experience of guiding or coaching them in a major competition. Igor Stimac belonged to this particular pot, given that he had coached Croatia in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and guided them to a play-off spot, finishing second in their group behind a strong Belgium side.
Pot 2: Coaches who had national team experience but had not coached them in major competitions.
Pot 3: Coaches with good club level experience but no national team experience were classified into this pot.
Pot 4: Rest of the coaches who were looking for their first big break were included in this section.
The AIFF leadership decided to consider only coaches in Pot 1 and Pot 2, given how crucial the new coach would be towards the development of the Indian team. Eventually, they brought the number down to 30.
Having done proper groundwork in whittling down the list to 30, the AIFF then handed over the shortlist to its Technical Committee headed by legendary Indian footballer Shyam Thapa and ably guided by Deputy Chairman Henry Menezes.
The Technical Committee did a thorough study into the CVs of the 30 coaches and brought it down to 11. After further examination and evaluation, four out of those 11 were selected by the committee. The four were Igor Stimac, former Bengaluru FC coach Albert Roca, Swedish coach Hakan Ericson and South Korean Lee Min-Sung.
While Stimac was chosen for his impeccable work with Croatia and Hajduk Split at club level, Roca was chosen for his experience in India and familiarity with the players. Ericson had enjoyed considerable success at youth level where he was in charge of the Sweden U21 team and had led the European nation in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Min-Sung has a lot of experience in Asia and was the South Korea U23 team assistant manager apart from being a coach at various Korean and Chinese clubs.
The AIFF then invited the four shortlisted coaches to attend an interview in person or through video conferencing and present their ideas for the national team to the Technical Committee.
Following the interview process on last Thursday, the Technical Committee recommended Igor Stimac's name, who was by far the most prominent and competent coach from the shortlist, to the Executive Committee which ratified the decision.
A lot of credit must be given to the AIFF for following a rational and thorough process in selecting the man to helm the Blue Tigers in what surely is an important period as far as the development of the national team and Indian football at large is concerned.
Stimac, who has had a checkered career as a player, seems to be a very shrewd choice but one the Indian FA has arrived at after some measured and calculated thinking instead of going about selecting a coach based purely on recommendation.
Whether Stimac succeeds as a coach is dependent on a lot of factors but the process followed is something to be commended. This is also the very first time that the Technical Committee was so heavily involved in the process.