Igor Stimac is a household name in Croatia as along with Slaven Bilic he formed the twin defensive pillars of the famous 'Bronze Generation' of the Vatreni's in the '98 World Cup .
Former Liverpool defender, Dejan Lovren, who played under Stimac, after beating Russia in the 2018 World Cup said in the mixed zone, "They (Bilic and Stimac) have a record of reaching the World Cup semi-finals and I want to beat that and I also want to beat them. I want people to remember my name in the future, not theirs!”
Stimac was a famed centre back during his playing career and has 53 caps international caps to his name. But, he is also a celebrated figure at the club level as he is nothing short of a legend at Derby County, where he even has a lounge in his name ('Igors') to this day.
On October 31, 1995, he was roped in by the Rams to save a sinking season. New manager Jim Smith was at his wit's end as his team had collected only 21 points from their first 14 matches and was reeling at the 17th spot.
Stimac scored on his debut at Tranmere Rovers but Derby went down 5-1 on that night. "We missed at least 15 chances that day. Tranmere was clinical on that night. Our performance was not reflected on the scoreline," said Stimac years later in an interview.
That was the last time Derby lost a league game that season until the following March. An unbeaten run of 20 games ensured that Derby gained promotion and Stimac entered the local folklore.
Stimac's life after retiring as a player is not your typical ex-pro story; he moved into the betting industry, released a hit pop single, did countless punditry work and even threw in his candidacy to become the president of the HNS, but lost the elections to Vlatko Markovic.
In 2001, he started his managerial career taking charge of Hajduk Split's football academy. He was the sporting director of the Bili's when they won two successive Croatia Football Leagues in 2004 and 2005. In 2005, he was in charge for the final 10 games of the league after Blaz Sliskovic was relieved of the duties.
In the same season, Stimac also guided Hajduk to the finals of the Croatia Football Cup but lost to Rijeka by a 3-1 aggregate. In 2006, he took the reins of first division side Cibalia Vinkovci in the middle of the season and helped them save relegation.
On September 14, 2009, he was appointed as the manager of NK Zagreb replacing Luka Pavlovic who lost 7 out of 7 in the league. In the 23 matches under his stewardship, Zagreb won nine, drew six and lost on eight occassions.
Stimac's most lucrative managerial stint started on July 5, 2012, when he was appointed as the head coach of the Croatia National team. Under his tutelage, Croatia went on to pick up 16 points from the first six matches in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. He trained the likes of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, Mario Mandzukic and several other players who were key figures in Croatia's dream run in the 2018 World Cup. He handed Mateo Kovacic his debut against Serbia and kept him on the pitch for the entire 90 minutes en route to a 2-0 win.
Soon after he became the coach, star player Luka Modric had said, "Igor has the charisma, knowledge, experience and everything necessery to run our team."
Stimac in an interview to the The Independent espoused his coaching philosophy in clear terms, which should excite Indian football fans as well, "The Croatian coaching model is based on developing individual skills, perfect ball control and a sense for the game. Not having a proper infrastructure is an enormous problem but using the only two things we have – pure talent and coaching philosophy – seems to be enough to keep our national team among the best teams in the world for nearly 30 years. And that is an amazing achievement."
However, a sudden slump in form saw Croatia lose twice to Scotland and finish behind group winners Belgium, settling for a play-off spot instead of automatic qualification to the 2014 World Cup. In the aftermath of the 2-0 loss to Scotland at Hampden Park, Stimac tendered his resignation to close friend and federation president Davor Suker.
After taking a break, Stimac was back in the dugout for NK Zadar. Six months later he left Zadar and joined Sepahan FC in the Persian Gulf Pro League. But a string of disappointing results forced him to resign after the Iranian outfit bowed out of the AFC Champions League. It must be noted that when he took the job in Sepahan, their average age was 34.
His latest stint was with Al Shahania where he was appointed in December 2016, after Portuguese manager Ze Nando was given the marching orders.
The Croat is now all set to be the Indian national team manager after the Indian FA's Technical Committee recommended him for the post, pending a ratification from the AIFF's Executive Committee.