This article originally appeared in The Field’s newsletter, Game Points, on June 19, 2024. Sign up here to get the newsletter directly delivered to your inbox every week.

Things were looking up for the Indian men’s football team this time last year. Under head coach Igor Stimac, India had won the Tri-Nation series, the Intercontinental Cup and were preparing for the SAFF Championship, which they would go on to win.

A couple of weeks on from their SAFF Championship triumph in July 2023, India received a favourable draw in the second round of the 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers.

In Group A, they were drawn with heavyweights Qatar and the lower-ranked Afghanistan and Kuwait. On paper, they were favourites to qualify for the third round – for the first time. And with the quality of players at their disposal, they should have made it to the next round.

What transpired was an utter disgrace.

India won only one of their six group matches and were knocked out of the World Cup qualifiers. The low point came in March when a depleted Afghanistan side held India to a draw, before beating the Indians 2-1 in the return fixture in Guwahati.

On Monday, the All India Football Federation, the governing body for the sport in the country, sacked Stimac from his role. When the Croatian took over as coach in 2019, India were ranked 95 of 210 football-playing nations in the world. On Monday, India was ranked 125.

Stimac, who was a part of the Croatian team that reached the 1998 Fifa World Cup semi-final, has often been bullish in his assessment of the team. He has even played to the jingoistic gallery on social media, regularly ending his posts with “Jai Hind.”

Though ever-present online, his absences at domestic club football matches have been frequent.

He tussled with the AIFF, had been at loggerheads with Indian Super League clubs to release players for training camps and later blamed these parties for the team’s bad performances.

But in this latest debacle in Indian football, Stimac is certainly not the only one who can be faulted.

In 2022, the AIFF was suspended by Fifa after the Supreme Court removed Praful Patel from his post as president.

Kalyan Chaubey, a former India goalkeeper and a member of the Bharatiya Janta Party, stepped in. But his tenure has been underwhelming.

Last year, while planning the schedule for the 2023-24 Indian Super League season, the national federation did not have enough foresight to realise the Asian Games were scheduled for late September and early October. It is an important tournament for the Under-24 players.

It is clear the AIFF was overly optimistic after India’s performances in the SAFF Championship, the Tri-nations (which featured Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic) and Intercontinental Cup – essentially exhibition events featuring teams ranked below or around India’s level at the time.

As a result, they handed Stimac a contract extension that went on till 2026. They had a chance to judge the team’s performance at the AFC Asian Cup in January. India failed to score a single goal, losing all three group stage matches.

Chaubey was not present in the meeting where the decision was made to sack Stimac. Chaubey is, after all, presumably busy as he prepares for the assembly by-elections in West Bengal, where he has been named as a BJP candidate from the Maniktala constituency.

On the field, India no longer has the services of their inspirational captain Sunil Chhetri, who called time on his 19-year association with the national team on June 6. Off the field, the men’s team no longer has a coach.

And the president of the federation seems to be preoccupied with non-footballing matters.

In June 2023, Indian football was in a happy space. In June 2024, Indian football can forget about going back to the drawing board – it first has to remake it.