A crucial decision has been taken by the administrators of Indian football as the search for the next coach of the men’s national team concluded on Wednesday with the appointment of Igor Stimac.
Four men – Stimac, Hakan Ericson, Lee Min-sung and Albert Roca - were shortlisted by the AIFF (All India Football Federation) to fill the role vacated by Stephen Constantine after the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.
Of the four, Stimac and Roca were the only candidates to have previously managed a senior men’s national team with the former having undertaken a 15-month stint with Croatia between July, 2012 and October, 2013.
The former international took charge of Croatia’s 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign after taking over the reins from Slaven Bilic. Both Bilic and Stimac were the two defensive pillars of the famous Croatian team of 1998 which made it all the way to the semi-finals of the World Cup held in France.
While Stimac’s coaching tenure with Croatia ended after he resigned following a second-placed finish in the 2014 World Cup qualifying group, behind only Belgium. Though Croatia got a play-off spot, a last round defeat to Scotland meant he decided to step down before the play-offs.
Before he took charge of the national team, Stimac had earned considerable success with his hometown club Hajduk Split whom he took all the way to the Croatian top-tier league title in 2004-05.
Stimac has also played at the highest level as a footballer with a 13-year distinguished international career with Croatia along with successful club stints at Derby County and West Ham where he achieved cult status with the former.
A no-nonsense authoritative defender in his playing heydays, Stimac has carried over the same traits into his coaching career.
His national-team experience with one of the top countries of the world gave him a considerable head-start against the three other candidates for the job.
Club football and national team football are entirely different prospects at the highest level and this is why the AIFF opted for somebody with experience coaching a national team at the highest level. There is not much time for players to learn much from a national team coach because you spent a week or two at most with him.
The only time an India coach had so much time to impart his knowledge on the players was during Bob Houghton's reign. He used to hold long camps spanning 2 months at times and the players imbibed a lot of stuff from the Englishman. No other coach has had that luxury ever since.
As such, a pragmatic Stimac looks to be the best bet in the near future for India going forward with not much time left for the new incoming coach to hit the ground running. With the crucial second-round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers coming up in September, there is no time to waste for Constantine’s replacement and a man who has done it all before is the need of the hour.