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Born leader Igor Stimac set for Indian football entry

5:18 PM GMT+4 09/05/2019
Igor Stimac
Igor Stimac is a martinet and Indian football could profit from his leadership, if his appointment as the India coach is ratified...

The name of the defender who, 18 years ago, took a £750,000-a-year pay cut to return to his home club Hajduk Split from Premier League club West Ham, is Igor Stimac, the Croatian who is set to be appointed as the India coach after being selected by the All India Football Federation's Technical Committee.

The physically strong centre-back was a celebrated leader at Derby County and had a year left on his contract at West Ham when he decided to help out the Croatian club who were broke. He lent the club money and became an integral part of the club leadership. 

He has been as no-nonsense off the field as he was on it. He speaks his mind and minces no words. He leads from the front and his philosophy has always been to put the team above individuals, as a player and now as a head coach. 

In his own words, "No player is bigger than the collective and each of them has to subordinate all his qualities to the team."

Stimac was always the captaincy material for all his bosses. He has played in the Premier League and the La Liga and has played alongside many great footballers. He was always respected for his character as much as his football skills, which has never been a common thing in football. In the great Croatian team of 1998 that finished third in the FIFA World Cup, he was one of the influential players in the dressing room, along with captain Zvonimir Boban and Davor Suker. 

He was always up for a challenge and has donned various roles to help out Hajduk Split, his home town team, after his playing days. He has coached them to league success and has also taken up roles as a Sporting Director and even became the Croatian FA's Club Association President. Clearly, no challenge has fazed the tough footballer.

Stimac took on Croatian FA President Zdravko Mamic when the latter was at his peak and many thought he had turned the FA to Dinamo Zagreb's benefit. But he would go on to lose the presidential elections by one controversial vote.

In 2012, Stimac was appointed the head coach of the Croatian national team. "The goal is to qualify for the World Cup and then to try to fight for the title in Brazil," he said after taking charge of the team. "I'll play five attackers if that is what we need," he added, as he pledged to play with an attacking, aggressive approach.

But his stint did not go exactly as planned, with Croatia finishing second behind Belgium in the 2014 World Cup qualification round and had to qualify via a play-off. His team beat Macedonia and Wales home and away, Serbia at home and held Belgium away from home. The hard-headed coach had criticised Ivan Rakitic's performance against Macedonia and left him out against Belgium, an indication that he is not one to shy away from taking bold decisions.

About the then Croatian head coach, Mario Mandzukic had remarked, "He is a very good coach, it is not easy for him to pick best XI in Croatian team. he is not too harsh on players but knows how to maintain discipline."

Despite the end result, he stayed true to his philosophy, was brave in his decision-making and upheld the discipline and leadership skills that he had in him as a player. 

It was a 0-1 defeat to Scotland in the penultimate group game of the qualifying round that ultimately led to Stimac handing in his letter of resignation. Influential players like Darijo Srna and Luka Modric had pleaded him to stay but the coach had made up his mind. 

Now with Stimac looking all set to take on the Indian football mantle, the leader in him will once again be up for the challenge, no holds barred.