Indian Football: Biggest Challenge for Igor Stimac is finding next Sunil Chhetri, says Former India Assistant Coach Stanley Rozario
The Indian Football team has had its share of foreign coaches who have contributed tremendously to the growth of the national team. Be it Milovan Ciric, Rustam Akramov, Bob Houghton or Stephen Constantine, each one, in their own right, has taken the game a step forward.
The challenges for the new coach Igor Stimac, however, is different. Top tournaments like the FIFA U-17 World Cup have come to India, raising the game's popularity and infrastructure. But the senior national team, however, is somewhat still reliant on one figure - Sunil Chhetri.
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Now there's no denying this, but Chhetri is 34 and not getting any younger. The undisputed leader of the national team, he may only be around for a couple of years. Stimac's challenge, therefore, is finding a suitable replacement for Chhetri within the next two years, says Stanley Rozario, who served as the assistant coach to Houghton.
"The biggest challenge facing Indian football right now is finding a successor for Sunil Chhetri," Rozario, the current Aizawl FC coach, said.
"The striker is ageing and he may not be with the national team one day but within the next few years, we need to find the next Sunil Chhetri.
"There are a lot of promising players. The squad chosen by Stimac is more or less in line with that of Stephen Constantine, but there are many new faces who have been called up. I also feel Lenny Rodrigues (FC Goa midfielder) should have been used for the experience in the midfield.
"But we'll get to see how it all pans out at the King's Cup in Thailand, but whatever it is, we need to support him."
'New Era in Indian Football'
This year, Stimac has a few important assignments, starting with the King's Cup in Buriram, Thailand, from June 5-8. India will then host Syria, Tajikistan and North Korea in what is called as an Intercontinental Cup from July 7-17 in Ahmedabad. Post that, the all-important World Cup qualifiers will begin from September.
For a nation that's aspiring to play the FIFA World Cup 2026 if not 2022, Stimac really has his task cut out, feels Rozario.
"I am happy for three things in Indian football. One is of All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel finding a place in the FIFA Council.
The second is the appointment of Daru Isac as the technical director of the national team and lastly is, of course, Igor Stimac being named as the Indian football team's head coach.
"Stimac's appointment marks a new day in Indian football as he is the first person with a World Cup medal to take over the helm after a stellar playing career.
"Milovan Ciric, the Serb, was definitely one who worked tremendously here. Then there was Bob Houghton, who helped the national team improve leaps and bounds during his time here.
"I can foresee a new era in Indian football if these 3 work together and we can look forward to good times."
Positive football from Stimac
India had a good run at the Asian Cup this January, beating Thailand 4-1 in their opening encounter. But Stephen Constantine's decision not to play attacking football cost India against Bahrain. Needing a draw to qualify, India failed to show attacking intent and crashed out unceremoniously from the group stages.
But will it be any different under Stimac, primarily a defender? After all, Stimac, while coaching Croatia from 2013-14, played a defensive brand of football which relied on counter attacks and set pieces.
"I am expecting Stimac to play attacking football. He was a defender during his playing days so he will definitely ensure the Indian defence is well organised. He will likely use his experience to tighten the defence and then rely on counter-attacks," Rozario said.
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"I got to know that he has seen a lot of the ISL and I-League matches and came prepared with a list of 36 players for his job interview. That shows the interest he has taken up in Indian football, and it's only good for us that he was given the job.
"The Indian football fraternity needs to come together as one unit in its support of Stimac. We'll go by the results of the national team but to get these results, Stimac needs time," Rozario, who signed a two-year contract extension with Aizawl recently, added.