Croatian legend Igor Stimac has been handed the mantle of India's national team coach from Stephen Constantine on Wednesday.
The 51-year-old is coming in at a very crucial time with India looking to build after a promising AFC Asia Cup 2019 campaign.
The expectations are high and understandably so. Stimac has an impressive curriculum vitae and can pride himself on being the most high profile coach in the history of Indian football.
As a player, the defender won the bronze medal at the 1998 World Cup. Stimac was part of the team that defeated the Netherlands in the third-place match after falling to France in the semi-final. This was his most notable achievement as a player.
The centre-back also spent a memorable two years with English side West Ham United at the turn of the century.
As a coach at the club level, Stimac won the league with Croatian side HNK Hajduk Split in the 2004/05 season and failed to convert it into a domestic double after losing to FC Rijeka in the cup final.
Stimac later went on to save first division side Vinkovci from relegation. In 2009, he took over as NK Zagreb boss, preventing the Croatian Championship side from being relegated.
In 2012, he was finally handed the Croatian national team job. But things didn’t pan out positively for Stimac. Though he could not help Croatia clinch automatic qualification to the World Cup, he managed to navigate through a tough group involving Scotland, Belgium and Serbia and finished second, thereby gaining a play-off spot. But a final round defeat to Scotland meant he decided to resign before the play-offs.
India have not had a lot of high profile coaches in their history. Stephen Constantine’s predecessor Wim Koevermans surely qualifies as one, but his career was not as impressive as that of the Croatian. In fact, Koevermans was one of the worst coaches in India's history as the country's ranking plummetted to an all-time low of 173.
Bob Houghton, India’s manager between 2006 and 2011 had managed a few high profile teams in his managerial career that spanned over four decades. Bristol City, Swedish team Malmo and the Chinese national team are some that stand out. In fact, he had taken Malmo to the final of the European Cup in 1979 where they lost to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest.
The earliest notable foreigner manager to have made a significant impact on Indian football has to be Harry Wright who led the team to a runners-up spot in the 1964 Asia Cup tournament. Though there were only four teams participating in the tournament, it remains statistically India’s biggest achievement in the world of football.
Clearly, Stimac can boast of a more impressive managerial career than any of the coaches mentioned above and accordingly, the expectations are very high.