India begin their title defence of the Hero Intercontinental Cup on Sunday when they take on Tajikistan at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad. It won't be an easy affair for the new head coach Igor Stimac as the team is under transition and at the same time keeping an eye on the World Cup Qualifiers, which is set to begin from September.
If you ask me about defending the title, I do not think about it. We think about how to progress in our game and how to advance in certain things which will help us in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers. That’s what we are focused on.
So, at any time, I will not put any kind of pressure on my players with regards to results in the tournament. I would rather watch how my players are advancing on few points in the game, like say, reacting to the second balls or winning it or trying to play short passes, move well and make runs behind the defenders. That's why I am interested in this phase.
There is no pressure about the results. Of course, we came here to win it. Don’t get me wrong. But that’s not the first point I am looking for.
The gaffer also laid stress on the various footballing aspects India needs to work on if the country wants to make it big in world football. The youth system, infrastructure, the huge off-season, and less number of games in a season are at the forefront of it.
It’s a long process. It is not only about the coach and the players. It is about changing a few things between the AIFF (All India Football Federation), ISL (Indian Super League) and I-League. It is about starting to work with youth leagues, it’s about improving infrastructure.
It’s about changing many things with regard to football. It's about changing a break which is so long, which will never allow us to become a strong force in world football. It’s about changing the number of the games during the year. You cannot become a strong force in 20 matches a year. You need to play at least 50.
There were various media reports which indicated that Iranian midfielder Omid Singh got a call-up for the Intercontinental Cup. When the midfielder confirmed it to Iranian media, many fans questioned whether the government laws of not allowing PIO players to represent India is holding the development of Indian football back. Igor Stimac said this is a major area where India can improve.
It's a huge point where we can improve. If every country is allowing players of its origin to have second passports and play for its country, why shouldn’t India do that. It would help us. I already received seven or eight names of Indian players who are abroad somewhere, who are born there.
Their parents are Indians and they have Indian passports. They are ready to sacrifice themselves and play for India. We should start thinking about it. I am not a politician so I am not getting into that but we need help from each side so that we can become a strong force again and that is one of the points.
The FIFA World Cup Qualifiers begin in September and India has very short time to prepare themselves. Igor Stimac knows about this and trying to give as many players opportunities as possible.
There is a very short time of the time we spent together working. After the Hero Intercontinental Cup, I will not have a chance to see them before the end of August right when we start our session for the qualifiers. Time is short, we are trying to use it wisely as well as we can and we are not wasting a single second.
And, you can see we are implementing so many young players in the team and twelve of them, I think, had their debuts in the King’s Cup in Thailand. It is showing that we are thinking of the future of Indian football.
Indian centre-back Sandesh Jhingan played both under Stephen Constantine and Igor Stimac. Although Constantine's style of play yielded good results, it failed to appease the fans.
I think you yourselves have seen the difference in the playing style. Under coach Stephen, it was a different brand of football which bought us a lot of success. I am not denying that but it was not appreciated so much by the fans. Everyone here in the room would say that head coach Igor has brought his brand of football which the boys are enjoying a lot and the fans and the people as well.
You can see yourselves. I don't need to make a big comment. Igor is enjoying the ball possession game but as players we still need to improve on it and adapt it so that we are on the top shape at the World Cup Qualifiers.