Igor Stimac and his pursuit of excellence will take time, be patient
On the 10th of September, 2019, India travelled to Qatar, facing an improbable mission of not returning empty-handed against the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions. A few days earlier, the Blue Tigers had shown immense confidence and bravery to put Oman under the cosh, before wilting under pressure in the dying moments. Thus, there was palpable excitement engulfing India’s visit to the Gulf country, although it never really transformed into optimism.
In Doha, the Blue Tigers were subjected to immense strife as the hosts kept pushing and probing in their pursuit of prizing open a stubborn defence. Yet, the visitors stood as strong in the face of adversity as any footballing outfit to have ever emerged from Indian shores, thereby conjuring a display brimming with grit and determination.
Most importantly though, that performance embodied the ‘new India’ Igor Stimac had promised in May, a team which would be willing to mix caution with aggression and one capable of churning out attractive football, a trait Indian football hasn’t been too synonymous with, over the years.
Since then though, the sanguineness of that potential watershed evening in Doha has withered away, meaning that Stimac has endured a rather premature run-in with the Indian sporting fan base.
The Blue Tigers’ last two games have seen them fail to impose themselves and stitch together a substantial end product, even though they’ve weaved plenty of pretty patterns. Consequently, the results have taken a dip and to an extent, have exasperated the faithful, especially because those drab draws have come against Afghanistan and Bangladesh.
Yet, while it would seem easier to hit the panic button and ask Stimac to find an instant and pragmatic remedy that allows them to finish above their lower-ranked peers in their World Cup qualifying group, Indian football could be better served if the Croatian indeed persists prioritising creativity over calculation and implementing his ideas.
For far too long, India have lacked a footballing identity, a search that seemingly hit its nadir when Stephen Constantine was in charge. Though the Englishman managed to steer India to the AFC Asian Cup in 2019, his circumspect approach often left a lot to be desired, even when the results signalled otherwise.
And, though there is absolutely nothing wrong with imbibing a ‘win at any cost’ attitude, India, as a footballing entity, might not be ready to adopt that modus operandi, especially not when it requires to carve out a footballing DNA from scratch.
A lot of the Blue Tigers’ critiques in the past have complained about the nation’s lack of infrastructure contributing to India not realising its vast potential. However, those aspects can’t be corrected in a trice and while there are measures in place currently, there also needs to be a mechanism around the higher echelons of Indian football wherein those facets could be minimised.
To put things into further perspective, a lot of the country’s footballers grow up playing football on rough and abrasive surfaces, meaning that they tend to hold on to the ball just a tad more before eventually, opting for a long ball that takes the pitch out of the equation.
Inevitably, those elements come to the fore when these footballers find themselves in the spotlight, with some even looking like rabbits caught in the headlights. Thus, the unattractive brand of football several have been quick to crib about is largely down to the upbringing these players have gone through.
Moreover, there has historically been a lack of proper footballing education at the grassroots level, meaning that a lot of their knowledge is developed from playing and inculcating ideas from watching the game. Unsurprisingly, India has fallen short on that count too, especially on the international front.
Thus, it is imperative that the Indian top-brass trusts a coach of the ilk of Stimac, who despite all the impediments, still harbours aspirations of casting the nation as one of the continent’s elite, thereby awakening the sleeping giant.
So far, the Croatian has talked about correcting all the aforementioned aspects, wherein he is hoping to ingrain a footballing philosophy that just doesn’t get the ball closer to goal, for the sake of it. He is trying to blend tactics alongside a bunch of hungry and persevering footballers in order to serve up a delectable delicacy to the world.
And, though the results haven’t been too kind on Stimac, there have been countless positives to take home, which normally wouldn’t make many sit up and take notice but are certainly good enough for the delicate predicament India finds itself in.
The Blue Tigers have been displaying extreme courage on the ball, have been willing to pass it around under pressure and most promisingly, have looked valorous enough to stamp their authority on matches.
At this juncture, the Croatian’s tenure has been marred by his side’s draws against Afghanistan and Bangladesh, meaning that people have been swift to overlook the team’s heroic stalemate in Doha. However, one must also not forget that Stimac has gotten only a handful of days with his players, each of whom arrives at the national camp having practised different ideologies with their ISL clubs.
Thus, it would be best for Indian football if the Croatian is left alone and allowed the requisite time to sprinkle his mixture of ball-playing ability and tactical nous on Indian footballers.
Furthermore, not many have showcased an unflinching attitude when confronted with the ever-present Indian footballing conundrum, a question that can’t be answered overnight.
And, though results ultimately end up defining a manager’s tenure, maybe Stimac should be accorded a slightly different yardstick, at least for making the right noises. After all, even Rome wasn’t built in a day, was it?
Published 18 Nov 2019, 15:52 IST