The Blue Tigers head coach opened up on the effect of coronavirus on Indian football.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has significantly affected football, including in India, with many clubs facing financial difficulties as a result of the stoppage. The Indian national team was also set to play Qatar in the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying game in March, but that match too was postponed. India coach Igor Stimac shared his views on the potential impact of the pandemic on Indian football when he spoke to Wion.

He said, “I was joking that if there is someone that will benefit from this Covid-19 break then it is Indian football, as we are used to long breaks. We have a break of 6-7 months every year and we should not have a problem with injuries, as the players are used to this pause.”

The Indian team has shown signs of improvement under the stewardship of the Croatian. Their attempt to play a possession-based style, with an emphasis on control of the ball and smooth circulation from back to front has been discernible. Moreover, he has brought a younger crop of players into the mix and has given them the opportunity to cement their place in the first-team. Stimac recognizes that making such huge changes in terms of the age-profile and brand of football would lead to some difficult moments in the short-term, but nevertheless will reap rewards in the coming years.  

“I am excited even much more than before after 12 months as India coach. We have proved that we can change many things in such a short time. The task was not easy to change from a kick and chase football to a more possession-based football. We have introduced many young players with more technical ability. It was not easy and we knew we were going to suffer but this was the only way to stabilize the results in the future,” the tactician reaffirmed.

Igor Stimac further added, “We are building a new team which should achieve its high level in the next 4-5 years. We have 25 players who are between 18-23 years. I am not happy with regards to the results, as we were expecting some more points from qualification. Looking back we did not take our opportunities. I thought we could surprise Oman, but a lack of experience and charismatic decisions on the field cost us. India is no longer the team that loses easy games, but we are not scoring enough goals.”

Stimac has repeatedly vouched for the implementation of the 3+1 rule in the Indian Super League as well as the I-League to improve the quality of Indian players, with an increase in opportunities and exposure at the highest level in the country accelerating their development.

“I am feeling depressed and tired at repeatedly saying we have to reduce the number of foreign players in Indian domestic football. It will take time to grow up as a football nation. The season has to be longer for players to play much more games than now. If the government can change the citizenship regulations, then we can get 7-8 players of Indian-origin who are playing abroad and that would change our results dramatically,” he revealed.

The coach also believes that the number of games should be increased and the league should run at least until May, as it will massively benefit the players and subsequently improve the overall standard of the national team. “We have been working behind closed doors on many aspects. One is regarding the selection of players. We have been talking to the government to change the citizenship regulations. We were also in touch with FSDL (Football Sports Development Limited) to increase the length of the season, plus the need to restructure the Durand Cup and the Super Cup.”

“Going forward what will be crucial is the number of games. We cannot stop our season at the end of February and football needs to be played until mid-May. I am told that it cannot happen as it overlaps with the broadcast of the IPL, but broadcast is not important, what is important is that players play more games to improve their football and bring more quality to the national team,” added Igor Stimac.

According to the head coach, the Indian team was set to travel to Turkey and Croatia for pre-season training. Those plans never materialized owing to the havoc caused by the spread of the coronavirus. However, there has been no slacking on the team’s behalf, as the players have performed their training tasks diligently at home and are maintaining communication using the different tools at their disposal.

“The pandemic has destroyed the plans we had made which were accepted by both the government and the AIFF. We were to go on pre-season training camps to Turkey and Croatia in April and May and we were supposed to play ten friendly games. We are now using this time to improve the education of our players, including theoretical points and I am very happy that the players are all following individual training plans.”

Lastly, Stimac views the current scenario as a great chance to revamp Indian football and believes that crucial changes could aid as well as maintain the competition required among sides in the Indian Super League.

“The pandemic could see certain rules and regulations being changed globally to rely on home-grown players. This is the perfect opportunity for India to dramatically change the structure of Indian football. Half the ISL clubs are facing financial difficulties and if all the clubs are not on the same level financially then what is the point of the competition. The competition is good only if everyone starts with the same amount of money and the same regulations,” concluded Igor Stimac. 

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