The Croatian needs to build on his predecessor’s work with the Blue Tigers.
Now that he’s India’s new head coach, Igor Stimac has quite the daunting task ahead. The Croatian comes in with ample amount of experience, having played for and managed his country in the past. However, his impressive CV won’t make the job any easier. Stimac is expected to improve upon the work done by former coach Stephen Constantine, who took the Blue Tigers to new heights during his second stint.
There are some matters which need to immediately be looked after by Stimac. The 51-year-old will want to integrate his unique style quickly but needs to look into some persistent problems beforehand. Even during Constantine’s reign, there were some persisting issues in India’s game which even the Englishman couldn’t solve. Stimac will have to put end to these problems to take India forward, as we take a look at five immediate challenges he faces as India’s new head coach.
5. Improving the distribution ability in the squad
The major stumbling block for the Blue Tigers under Stephen Constantine was the inability to churn together proper passing moves. Under his system, India would often end up losing the ball cheaply, crumbling to oppositions pressurize to woefully concede possession. Be it from defenders, midfielders or even the star players, the distribution aspect really needs to improve.
Stimac needs to be stringent into instructing the players to be more confident in possession and pass the ball carefully. The Blue Tigers need to improve their distribution under pressure and work the ball to attack rather than just flipping out long-balls. In order to get India playing smooth, attractive football, Stimac needs to put emphasis on improving the distribution aspects in order to eventually integrate a fluid, passing style into India’s game.
4. Finding a suitable centre-back partner for Sandesh Jhingan
After Anas Edathodika announced his premature retirement from the international stage, Sandesh Jhingan now needs a new partner in the heart of the defence. A former defender himself, Stimac will toughen up the Blue Tigers defensive state and will know which are the strongest. Ideally, pairing a quick, young defender with Jhingan can bring the best results.
Salam Ranjan Singh and Anwar Ali are both confident defenders whose energy flow and impressive game-reading can benefit the Blue Tigers. Moreover, Rahul Bheke’s also a prime option considering his stunning work at denying teams in the ISL. For a tough-tackling defender like Jhingan, Stimac could do well with putting a more assertive, calm defender to compliment him and help create a powerful partnership to keep out menacing oppositions.
3. Addressing the dearth of quality goal-scorers in the squad
An underlying issue for India have also been a lack of goals over the past year. While the Blue Tigers boast impressive wingers like Udanta Singh or Ashique Kuruniyan or creative players like Anirudh Thapa, they lack quality goal-scorers. Barring Sunil Chhetri, who’s opting to play deeper than usual, there’s nobody to lead the line and produce results consistently. In India’s last six competitive matches, they’ve only scored five goals.
Four of them came in one half against Thailand. The Blue Tigers ended up creating often in the cautious approach under Constantine, but fluffed up in the final third. Stimac needs to find tap into the clinical aspect of his players. Newcomers like Jobby Justin, Michael Soosairaj and Brandon Fernandes can help provide goals with their impressive finishing ability. However, the experienced stars also need to pick up their striking ability as, without goals, India wouldn’t be able to win many matches going forward.
2. Integrating a more possession-style football
Despite the admirable effort by India in the AFC Asian Cup, the quality of football was still extremely underpar. Granted the Blue Tigers displayd some stunning attacking football against Thailand, but they haven’t been able to dominate games for a long time now. In order to compete against top teams, the side needs to learn how to dominate games. That’s where Igor Stimac comes in. The Croatian needs to help integrate a more possession-based style by allowing the players to express themselves better.
The Blue Tigers were unable to maintain 50% possession in either of their AFC Asian Cup group games and this cautious approach won’t be tolerated much longer. Stimac needs to implement a more passing style, while encouraging players to retain possession and not succumb to pressure. He’ll need to integrate a stronger mentality into the players to make them be available to each other, helping control games and take the games to stronger oppositions.
1. Finding Sunil Chhetri’s long-term successor
Even though the Indian national team has come a long way over the years, Sunil Chhetri remains their beating heart. Despite losing his captaincy towards the end of Constantine’s reign, the Bengaluru FC striker’s upbeat attitude, relentless spirit and influential work in attack has made him a hero the players look up to. However, the reality is that Chhetri’s also 34-year-old!
Most players retire by this age, but his patriotic fire’s allowed him to keep going. Stimac needs to look into replacing him sooner rather than later and find another inspiration source to carry his mantle. Udanta Singh’s a prime option knowing his blistering pace and terrific work in the final third, while Lallianzuala Chhangte’s another option. Jeje Lalpekhlua’s too inconsistent to take the pressure, but Stimac should experiment by giving Chhetri’s role to developing talents to reduce India’s dependency on their highest goal-scorer.