The Indian football team's new head coach Igor Stimac has been in the country for a few weeks, training with players and understanding the culture, the conditions and everything that is good and bad about national football, including the much-talked about conflict between the two premier football leagues in the country at the moment.
As Stimac began talking about it all with the reporters in Delhi on Friday, he gave an impression that he is not here merely to fill in the shoes of his predecessor. Having coached Croatia earlier and with 18 years of experience in managing clubs and national sides behind him, Stimac chose to enter the world of Indian football after having done a lot of research.
Stimac began by saying that he was impressed with what former coach Stephen Constantine did with the national team but there still needs a lot of work to be done. He said, "I watched nearly all matches from last ISL season. I have been informed by players (about situation currently in Indian football). From my research I have recognised five or six players who did not play during Constatine's period but I think they deserve a chance. We will train together and see how it goes."
The 51-year-old said that Constatine played defensively but it was due to the players he had at his helm. He opted for a more defensive style of play that was more effective to the players that he had. He, on the other hand, would try and have more options in his hand. He said, "His (Constantine's) football style was adapted as per his players. That was the most effective way to play with those kind of players. In football, things are going rapidly up and we need to speed up. I will try and more tactical options and switch from one option to the other in the game because when you are losing 1-0 you can't sit back and defend."
ISL vs I League conflict is not helping anyone
Stimac was quick to reply on the question surrounding the differences which have stayed put for long between Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League clubs. The coach stated that while he was not hired to solve these problems, a part of his job will be to monitor major issues involving Indian football, and that includes the leagues.
He said, "No conflict is helping anyone. It is not my part of the job to get into communication between the leagues. My part of the job will be working with players, monitoring what is going on. What can be improved and giving suggestion to the AIFF. Whatever we do, we need to do together. With ISL people and I-League people. It must be done together."
Stimac vowed to find a solution to the ongoing conflict. He mentioned that pros and cons of both the leagues cannot be ignored and people from both the factions need to come together to sit and talk. He said, "ISL is a league which is more privatised. There are private owners, who are investing money and obviously, those who are investing money will want returns. I-League has been there for many years and it has something which ISL cannot buy. It is tradition. You cannot buy tradition."
"It will take years for ISL to become a traditional league. Working on those things, how things can be matched together in ISL and I-League. I see a window where we can put everything together and find a way to help I-League clubs to speed up in their progression and ISL clubs to get a part of the tradition. I am not here to decide how the leagues will be organised but my opinion will be there."
Everyone has to fight for place, including Sunil Chhetri
Stimac seemed excited to work with the Indian football star Sunil Chhetri but he also stressed that each and every player was equal in his eyes and would have to show heart to nail down a place in the side.
He said, "Sunil is very valuable to the team. He is a role model to the young players who are knocking at the door. He has played so many games and he is experienced. But you need to fight for place in the team. We start from zero. You don't get paid for past, you get paid for today. If you good today, tomorrow you get your chance."
The new coach was pretty adamant in improving the weak areas as well which he found after watching some of the games. He said, "I have seen a few things which I have noted is lack of concentration during the games. Lack of tactical movements, tactical knowledge in the game. Reaction on the second ball which is important today. We are not good at these things we need to say that. You need to have players with great agility, good speed. We need tigers and lions on the field."
Stimac does not have enough time left to do his homework before his first big announcement, which is the King's Cup football tournament at Buriram in Thailand beginning on 5 June. However, he has spent time with 37-man preliminary squad, which is undergoing a camp at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The final 23-member squad will fly to Thailand on 1 June.