The first fortnight of June will be of extreme importance for Indian football. The national team will play their three remaining World Cup qualifiers against Qatar (June 3), Bangladesh (June 7) and Afghanistan (June 15) in a single-venue meet in Qatar.
While the Indian squad, currently camping in Qatar, will troop out trying to gain as many points as possible, a sword of Damocles will be hanging on the head of national coach Igor Stimac. A not-too-satisfactory outcome from these three matches will surely end the Croatian’s reign as India’s head coach.
On Friday (May 28, 2021), the technical committee of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had a virtual meeting to decide the fate of Stimac, whose two-year contract actually ended on May 15. While the press release said the coach has been granted a three-month extension, sources in the committee explained everything would depend on the results of the three matches.
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“To put in a nutshell, the coach’s extension has been put on hold,” a member of the technical committee, who did not wish to be identified, admitted.
“A three-month extension actually means little since there is no engagement for the national team during this period. Once these three matches are over, we will review the results and will meet again either at the end of July or in August. We will also call for a report from the coach. The Asian Cup qualifiers are likely to start from September. The meeting in July/August could be crucial. It will decide whether this coach will be in charge for the Asian Cup qualifiers or someone new steps in,” said the member.
The press release also says the same thing, albeit in a different tone: “….the Committee unanimously decided to extend National Team Head Coach Igor Stimac’s contract till September 2021. The Committee will meet again in September to discuss the future pathway forward.”
There is a sneaky feeling that Stimac, who joined as India’s chief coach in May 2019 with the huge reputation of being a great former footballer and a solid coach, is fast approaching the end of his journey in India. Not everybody, which includes a few technical committee members too, are convinced about him continuing at the helm of the national team beyond the World Cup qualifiers.
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One member was forthright in his assessment. “I can’t say it for sure, but it could be the beginning of the end. In the last two years, Stimac hasn’t produced much. What extraordinary thing can he do in the next three matches to turn the tide? Had that been the case, the federation would have given him an extension till the Asian Cup qualifiers straightaway,” he pointed out.
In the meeting, chaired by former India goalkeeper Henry Menezes in the absence of chairman Shyam Thapa, who is indisposed, the members were informed that the coach was satisfied with the fitness level of around 15 of the footballers with him in Qatar. The members were also told the team had to face several problems because of the pandemic, which severely restricted Stimac’s training plans. So much so, the team could not even play a friendly tie against the Philippines because of the bio-bubble protocol.
Having joined as India’s national coach in 2019, Stimac has done little to gain the confidence of fans. In 12 matches India have under his charge, there is little to show except a lone victory over hosts Thailand in the King’s Cup. The biggest blow to his reputation came only recently when India were thrashed 0-6 by UAE in a friendly match.
Furthermore, in 12 games under Stimac, no less than 38 players have been part of the starting eleven. The coach, some feel, is still not sure about his first choice footballers. India have conceded 25 goals in 12 matches, scoring 11. At the same time, it can be said about Stimac’s defence that he hardly had time to work with them with a definite future plan. In November-December 2020, when many other Asian nations were either having long camps or busy playing international friendlies, Stimac had to sit idle as domestic football was in full swing in India.
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The coach was also unlucky as his plan with the national team went astray because of the second wave of Covid-19 surge in April-May. His plan to have a long camp in Kolkata had to be abandoned and the two-week long camp in Qatar could only be arranged after a lot of persuasion by the AIFF officials with their Qatar counterparts. The coach has already made it clear that he is absolutely not happy with the way his team is preparing in Qatar.
He is unhappy with the limited training opportunities, bio-bubble rules and even with the way the food is being served to the footballers. These things will surely come up for discussion if India do not come up with expected results in the next three matches. Stimac, it is believed, wanted the matches to be postponed as he was looking to play two home matches against Qatar and Afghanistan. But nothing could be done since the schedule was chalked out by the AFC.
While the Croatian’s fate hangs in the balance (so to say for the moment), technical director Isac Doru is all set to be shown the door as his two-year contract has come to an end. There were people within the federation, who always questioned Doru’s appointment and the ongoing pandemic virtually left the Romanian without much work. Sources said the technical committee members wondered what could be Doru’s contribution in the current circumstances.
“Mr. Savio Medeira will take charge as AIFF’s interim Technical Director as approved by the Committee,” the AIFF have said.
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