Indian men’s national football team coach Igor Stimac called for a better scheduling of the Indian Super League and stated that the uncertainty surrounding the All India Football Federation is not helping the national team.

Last week, India qualified for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup finals by winning all three of their qualifying matches. Stimac’s India rounded off their qualifiers with a stylish 4-0 win over group rivals Hong Kong. The 2023 edition will be India’s fifth overall appearance at the continental championship (1964, 1984, 2011, 2019, 2023), and the first time the country will compete at consecutive tournament finals.

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Stimac’s current contract ends in September 2022 but he hopes to extend his stay beyond his current three years.

Speaking during an impromptu press conference over the weekend, Stimac talked about the messy state of affairs at the AIFF, the scheduling of the ISL and his future ahead of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.

On scheduling of ISL

Stimac bemoaned the lack of playing time for players in a year, stating that the Indian football calendar should not be dependent on the IPL.

“It’s clear that the season needs to be longer and players need more matches. They (players) needed to be treated and nurtured throughout for 10-11 months and that 6-8 weeks of holiday is more than enough. We have more things to be sorted in terms of the calendar,” he said.

“It needs to be much more (of a) challenge for players than comfort. To go higher as a national team, we need players who will compete every day at their best. We cannot have such a short league without enough clubs to compete. And we need to be quicker (about making these changes).

“Things need to be sorted out about the football calendar, which is still being adjusted with regards to IPL and broadcasting. This needs to stop if we want to make football great in India. Football calendar should not depend on other things,” Stimac said.

The BCCI last week sold the broadcast rights of the IPL for the 2023-27 cycle for a whopping 48,390 crore. Star India renewed its television deal by acquiring Package A for Rs 23,575 crores while Viacom18 bagged exclusive digital rights in the subcontinent for Rs 23,758 crore. The Disney-owned Star India also own the the broadcast rights for the ISL and the Indian national football teams.

The 54-year-old also asserted that ISL clubs will also have to play their part in releasing players in order for them to attend longer national camps.

“ISL will not make India fall in love with Indian football. Only the national team will do that,” he added.

On the mess at AIFF

Stimac stated that the uncertain future surrounding the AIFF and a possible Fifa ban does not bode well for the the national team’s preparations.

The Supreme Court in May appointed a Committee of Administrators to run the day-to-day affairs of the AIFF bringing an end to former chief Praful Patel’s 13-year stay at the helm of Indian football.

“We might have problems if these elections are not started soon. We need to organise ourselves. This council (CoA) cannot be operative with football matters, what is needed for the national team, and other selection matters. Time is passing by and we are not preparing for what’s ahead,” Stimac said.

Without taking names, Stimac accused stakeholders in Indian football of prioritising their “own projects” over the health of the national team.

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“When I took the job, I expected a far different situation. I expected everyone to be committed and ready to help the national team rise up. But some of the parties were concentrating on their own projects which was surprising, some of them didn’t understand what that means and how long it takes for the national team to rise up,” he said.

On his contract situation

Stimac’s contract is the obvious hot topic at the moment.

“My contract runs out in September and it was an agreement with AIFF based on if we were going to fulfil our goals (Asian Cup qualification). One council member said there was no rush because the contract is until September but he has to understand football season is different from the normal calendar. Coaches are employed in June or July and they should think about that,” Stimac said.

“I am very committed to AIFF. We finished three years of work, qualified for the Asian Cup and I would love to take this team and prove to everyone that India can do better,” he added.

The Croatian also fought back allegations that he is only focused on his contract, claiming that he took up the Indian job for a lower salary than he normally demands. Stimac has also recently received the backing of captain Sunil Chhetri who had called the Croatian “one of the best managers” he has played under.

“He (Stimac) is one of the best managers that we have played under. The boys are very comfortable. He’s very approachable, talks to everyone, treats everyone well. He played at the top level, so understands the players’ psyche. He understands the dressing room and the boys, knows well what to say and what not to say, how to encourage them... it’s something he’s really good at,” Chhetri had said.

Read more on this story in the Indian Express and Sportstar.