Igor Stimac on Wednesday bagged the job as India’s next football coach, beating over 250 candidates who had applied for the post. Stimac penned a two-year contract with the All India Football Federation, succeeding Stephen Constantine after the Englishman announced his exit from India’s AFC Cup campaign in January.
When the race of the shortlisted candidates was trimmed down to the final four, Stimac’s all-round experienced proved too good to ignore as he pipped the likes of Albert Roca, Sweden’s Hakan Erikson and World Cupper Lee Min-sung to win the coveted job and according to the AIFF Techincal Committee a “right signal had been sent to the world” with his appointment.
His record as a player speaks for itself. Stimac was a key component of Croatia’s Golden Generation that bagged bronze during the 1998 Fifa World Cup and the center back also played a massive part in their run to the quarterfinals of the Uefa European Championship in 1996.
But once he announced retirement, his journey into coaching was an interesting one: he started a business in the betting industry, released a pop single that went viral and featured in various shows and channels as pundit. The 51-year-old was also one of the candidates to take over as president of the Croatian Football Federation before losing the elections to Vlatko Markovic.
The only one to appear for the interview in person, Stimac had done his homework thoroughly and showed up for the interview with a list of 36 probable names for the national camp. The fact that he had steered underdogs like Croatia to the Fifa World Cup 2014 in Brazil and his vast experience as coach titled things in his favour. Even the newly-appointed technical director Doru Isac approved of him.
“Stimac had one of the best CVs, his inter-personal skills were very good. Experience-wise no body could beat Lee and Stimac but in the end he [Stimac] outsmarted everyone. His approach taking Croatia to the World Cup qualifiers was also considered,” said a committee member to Scroll.in.
The one flaw in Stimac’s CV was his unfavorable managerial record ever since he quit midway during Croatia’s World Cup qualifying campaign. He took charge of teams like Zadar in his homeland to Iran’s Sepahan and Qatari club Al-Shahania which was his previous assignment - but the Croat had failed to inspire any change - a combined success rate which did not exceed more than 30 percent in the last few years.
Stimac's managerial record since 2012-'13
|Croatia||468 days||15||(8 wins, 2 draws and 5 losses)|
|Zadar (Croatia)||189 days||19||(5 wins, 4 draws and 10 losses)|
|Sepahan (Iran)||162 days||21||(3 wins, 9 draws and 9 losses)|
|Al-Shahania (Qatar)||146 days||11||(1 win, 6 draws and 4 losses)|
However, Stimac, was well prepared for the questions thrown at him.
“He came across as someone who was very confident. Even though few of the members put him on the back foot with a few tough questions, he seemed confident and presented logical answers,” the committee member revealed.
“He said his stints did not go well because he got into teams that were struggling with relegation and that he brought them out. So there were many losses and few wins. There were limited resources and limited finances and that he worked with clubs so he could keep a good structure without them having much of a legacy.
“It worked to our advantage as well because in India we have the same problems. That becomes his strength because he has worked in adverse conditions,” he added.
What went wrong for Roca
Roca’s vast knowledge about Indian football kept him in fray for the job.
His exceptional win percentage with Bengaluru FC where he guided them to two club finals - AFC Cup and the Indian Super League along with the philosophy he implemented had found him many backers despite a short stint with El Salvador at the international level.
But beyond that, there was very little that impressed the committee members.
“Roca’s presentation was good but it his answers about Indian football and the players were very generic. His experience about Indian football for club level is fantastic but when it’s international level, it was a little wanting.
“No doubt Roca has brought his attractive style to Bengaluru but there he had players like Dimas [Delgado] and Miku. When it comes to the national team, the dynamics are different. There you are in a comfortable zone of being in a club, where everything is under your command. It is not the same in the national team,” the committee member said.
The Spaniard also wanted to bring his assistant along but Stimac was very open to the idea of working with Indian coaches, describing them as “the pulse of Indian football.”
With less than a month to go for India’s Kings Cup campaign in Thailand on June 5, Stimac said preparation would not be a worry as he would continue to work with his probable list of 36 players.
“He explained the coaching he had done and what changes were needed. A stronger defensive line, more wing play and a few other technical things as well. We were all satisfied with his answers,” another senior committee member said.
Constantine, who was previously at the helm for five years in his second stint, oversaw an unbeaten run of 13 games and helped India break into the top 100 of the Fifa Rankings for the first time in 20 years which was followed by an optimistic Asian Cup display where they missed qualifying for the knockouts by a whisker.
Having ticked all the boxes, the AIFF believes Stimac’s experience will take India to the next level.
“We have a player who has played a World Cup, who has been a bronze medallist and whose country finished as World Cup finalists. We should not only be happy but we should be sending the right signal to the world that India has hired the best coach in the world. We believe we have got a combination which is right for Indian football,” concluded the committee member.