Igor Stimac said it would be “suicidal” if India followed the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) rule of allowing six foreign players between 2023 and 2024. “We have been there, such a thing set Indian football back seven or eight years,” he said. India’s coach in an interview.
The Indian Super League (ISL) started with six imports allowed on the pitch and it was in 2021-22 that the number dropped to four, including one Asian. But as soon as India’s top league did, the AFC ratified increasing the number of foreigners to six (5+1) from 2023.
It would be fine for Japan, Australia and South Korea, or one of the top leagues in Europe that “has a great infrastructure, a lot of great coaches, academies and so many kids involved in structured football.” Not India, which needs to grow the sport. “Most of the guys on the national team now started playing competitive soccer when they were 15 years old, which means seven or eight years late,” Stimac said.
To remedy that, Stimac said the All India Football Federation (AIFF) also needs to look at the I-League again. “It should be a platform for young Indian forwards, centre-backs and attacking midfielders. In my opinion, I would like the I-League without foreign players in the future.” I-League clubs should look for a module where they help Indian players mature and sell them to ISL teams, he said. “This should be a big part of your income.”
Given that the I-League winners have a place in the AFC Cup and are supposed to be promoted to the ISL in 2024, clubs might find that controversial, but then Stimac said the national team is at the top of the pyramid. and that everything possible should be done to serve it. .
Club-country balancing act
Stimac flies from Split in Croatia on Wednesday to Pune, via Zagreb, Doha and Mumbai, for a camp that starts on Thursday. He called up the players ahead of friendlies in Bahrain on March 23-26, but even before they met, Stimac had to release four from Mumbai City FC to help them prepare for the Asian Champions League. Also, Rahul Bheke, Bipin Singh and Apuia (Lalengmawia Ralte) of Mumbai City will be released after the Bahrain game, he said. Danish Farooq, Anwar Ali, Nikhil Poojari and Ruivah Hormipam were added to the roster to replace Glan Martins, Ashique Kuruniyan, Sunil Chhetri and Suresh Wangjam, who are injured, he said.
With ATK Mohun Bagan also playing in the AFC Cup qualifiers, the tightrope between clubs and countries will continue throughout April and May as Stimac prepares India for the 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers in June. Stimac’s plan ahead of the games against Cambodia, Afghanistan and Hong Kong is to have a six-week camp in Kolkata during which he wants to play an overseas tournament in May and a friendly “against a good opponent seven days before the qualifiers.” ”.
After having no caps in 2020 and playing games without long preparation camps in 2021, it was fitting for Stimac to say: “we finally have enough time to do good preparation and play stable football.”
The friendlies are a step in that direction although the Croatian said he does not expect much because there may be “heavy legs”. The Covid-19 affected ISL made the season lengthen and reduced its preparation time by five days.
“This is making it difficult but not impossible. We have a lot of talent in our team, we have a great relationship in the locker room and I don’t care about the rest. I don’t mind criticism because we have the circle that will never be affected by things that happen around us,” he said, drawing one with his arm on the Zoom call.
Stimac’s team did just that at the SAFF Championship in October, India’s last international assignment, starting poorly before clinching their eighth title. “Listen, I have enough experience. I was world U-20 champion and bronze medalist in the World Cup. I know how to get there, I’ve been through it. And I don’t mind when some people start criticizing too soon. That motivates me even more,” he said.
Praise for Colaco, Manvir
That most of the young players who debuted in India last year have improved bodes well for Stimac. “Young players have ups and downs. Of course, it’s easier to perform in the ISL, which still lacks some rhythm, some tactical commitment necessary for a higher level in international football. But most of the guys came up with his form.
“Liston Colaco – It is obvious that he is becoming a very important part of ATK Mohun Bagan and the national team, Akash (Mishra), Ashish (Rai) have also kept in good shape. Apuia was solid but not impressive like the year before”.
While Stimac welcomed the return of Sandesh Jhingan, “our leader in the back,” he said, has been injured for a long time. This could be an opportunity to take a look at central defenders Ali and Hormipam and use Subhasish Bose as a left foot to pair up with Chinglensana Singh, Narender Gahlot, Deepak Tangri or Pritam Kotal.
“We have options and they are getting bigger as more Indians get opportunities in central defense positions. So many Indian scorers, so many Indians providing assists and getting more involved in the final third. In previous seasons it was foreign players who occupied these positions”, said Stimac.
Chhetri’s absence is a “wonderful” opportunity for other forwards to step up. “Manvir showed when (Roy) Krishna wasn’t there that he can play centre-forward,” Stimac said.
“He (Manvir) is a much more confident player. He is a player who brings fear to the opposition. To play on better teams, we need guys who are physical, have enough pace and understand the game very well. Not everyone who is doing very well in the ISL can play international football, people need to understand that. It’s also about character.”
Singh has bulked up over the past three years, thanks to a program designed by Luka ‘Professor’ Radman, India’s strength and conditioning coach, Stimac said. Ditto Sahal Abdul Samad, who has had a good season with Kerala Blasters. “He (Sahal) needs to repeat those wonderful things more often. He shouldn’t be shy on the pitch. He can provide big balls forward, he can dribble, but he needs to improve shooting from outside the box. He is becoming a complete player because he has been given the opportunity to play. And he is very hardworking.”
However, goalkeepers have been a concern. “I think, in general, goalkeepers have had a nightmare season. I don’t know why, but it has been obvious that only Prabhsukhan Gill was in good form at all times. We already have a plan made for Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu) to put him under pressure from day one to get him back into the form needed to represent the national team and say he is number 1,” Stimac said.
sure to qualify
India have not played at home since October 15, 2019. Asked if playing at home could be a double-edged sword for what is largely young, Stimac said: “I would never say that. I would rather play in front of a full house in Kolkata or anywhere in India. We are aware that the performance against Bangladesh did not go as we wanted, so there is something we must pay to the fans who were wonderful that day,” he said, referring to the 1-1 draw that came from behind in a packed stadium. Salt Lake Stadium.
“The good thing is that we are opening against Cambodia and it could be, in a way, an easier game. I say this without underestimating anyone, so we have to be aware and start the qualifiers with three points. How to get there, that will be done in the six weeks of preparation in our camp. Let’s find the balance that we found during the SAFFF competition; a team that can defend well, play a high line with a defense of four or three and be creative in the final third. I am confident that we will participate in the final stages and do well in the Asian Cup.”