Indian football team coach Igor Stimac felt playing at the international level is very different from playing in the Indian Super League where only the clubs at the top end of the table experience pressure due to the absence of relegation in India’s top-tier division.
Stimac who guided India to the third round of AFC Asian Cup qualifiers after finishing third in the Fifa World Cup qualifying campaign felt the country’s premier football competition doesn’t pose the same challenge as matches against some of the best teams in Asia.
“When I became coach, one of the things we agreed upon was to play friendly games against stronger teams to give our players opportunities to face real difficulties. to find themselves under pressure and make them learn how to cope with it,” Stimac told reporters during an online interaction.
“The ISL doesn’t bring this kind of pressure. Don’t get me wrong but there’s no relegation in the ISL. It’s a lot different from playing top-level international football against higher-ranked teams like Oman, Qatar and UAE,” he added.
The Croatian had already suggested in the past that the level of football in the ISL doesn’t match that of international football and it’s a problem that continues to hold the national team back.
The coach feels a longer season that allows the players to play around 40 matches a season is the need of the hour in Indian football.
“When we speak about the clubs, if clubs are operating only for five months, what is happening with the players for the rest of the months? We need to start thinking about how to organise teamwork for players who are left out of training sessions for a longer period,” he said.
Indian football’s roadmap points to an increase in the number of teams in the ISL that will lead to a longer season but those changes have been put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Stimac agrees that India will benefit once the longer season is in place.
As far as the I-League, the second tier of Indian football is concerned, Stimac felt it could also do with some changes.
“We can also think about starting I-League without foreign players because that will open doors for Indian strikers, midfielders and centre back that will help national team enormously in three-four years time, believe me.”
However, he feels India needs to develop at a faster rate to keep pace with other Asian nations who are putting a lot of effort into improving their level.
“It would be great if it’s everything on us and our work. But we need to understand that some of the countries that are lower ranked than us are putting much, much bigger efforts into advancing the quality of their leagues, their football, much higher investments are coming through,” Stimac said.
“And they are advancing with a bigger speed than us. It’s not only about us, but it’s also about what others do,” he added.
(With PTI inputs)