Also, Igor Stimac has insisted that India needs to import good coaches to improve as a footballing nation.

Zlatko Dalic, the Croatia national team coach who led his team to their first-ever FIFA World Cup final in 2018, has revealed that the Indian football team can progress only if the number of foreign players in various Indian clubs is reduced. The 53-year-old was speaking as a part of the online session hosted jointly by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Friday when he made the above observation.

The session was also attended by the likes of Kiren Rijiju, India’s Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, and Igor Stimac, the head coach of the Indian national football team, apart from 700 other football coaches from all over the country.

Dalic responded to numerous questions posed to him by those who attended the session – and one of those was about the possible role of foreign players plying their trade in India, in hindering the development of young indigenous talent.

“I followed your league and saw your teams and a small problem you have is that you have a lot of foreign players. An example is Saudi Arabia, last season it was eight foreign players, it is difficult for the local players, you can’t develop young players,” he responded to the query, as quoted by Goal.

“Too many foreigners is a problem because that will hinder the development of young [domestic] players. Two-to-three [foreigners] in a team should be enough. I know that you want to improve your league and brought a lot of foreign players but I think it will not help when you want to improve your national team,” he explained further.

“How will you improve your national team when your players didn’t play in the league? If you bring foreign players, you have to bring good [quality] players who will benefit your team,” the former Al-Hilal and Al-Ain manager added, before concluding:

“The league doesn’t need too many foreign players, two-three are enough. If you have seven-eight players in your local team, young players cannot play. Without strong game time, they cannot improve their career. You want to succeed in your football, [then] you have to be patient with your young players.”

In case you did not know, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have generally advised a 3+1 rule for the quota of foreign players. While most football leagues in Asia follow AFC’s rule, India’s leagues – the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League – are yet to follow the trend.

Currently, ISL teams can sign a minimum of six and a maximum of seven foreigners players and can play five of them at once on the field. However, the number of foreigners who are being allowed in both leagues is gradually being reduced, in a bid to support young Indian footballers who are seeking inspiration to try and improve their careers.

During the session, Dalic also spoke on his experience of helping the Croatia side win their first-ever FIFA World Cup silver medal in 2018. He said that he was able to turn things around for Luka Modric and co, after no one really expressed belief in his side before the start of the competition.

“When you see other teams with stars like (Cristiano) Ronaldo, (Lionel) Messi and Neymar (Jr.), nobody believed in us. We played as a team and not as one player. When you saw (Luka) Modric receiving the trophy for the ‘best player’ in the (2018) World Cup, he was sad because Croatia lost (the final). If you win a trophy for yourself, it’s okay, but he (Modric) was not happy because his team lost,” he said.

“Between me and the players, we stay together and never gave up. We do the best from our side. Most important also is the support of our people. Some people think it is more difficult with stars like (Luka) Modric, (Ivan) Rakitic, (Mario) Mandzukic, it is not true. They are simple people, they just need confidence. If you give them confidence, they will give everything from their side.”

The former Hajduk Split and Varteks midfielder then went on to support Stimac, the current head coach of the Indian national football team, as he said: “I hope we [Croatia] will do well in the next Euro Cup and World Cup in Qatar. I hope to see you also there. I am sure Igor [Stimac] will do a great job [with the Indian national team].”

“A lot of coaches prefers old (experienced) players and give them chances but from my side, I also know Igor insists that we have to give a lot of young players chances if we want to improve him. If you want to build a good player, you have to give him a chance. A young player without competitive and international exposure will not improve.”

“Our young players of 18 and 19 years who are going to big clubs in other countries are not getting game time there and that is where their improvement stops. A young player has to play every week. The coach has to give him support and confidence to let him play.”

Stimac, who also attended the call alongside Dalic and Kiren Rijiju as mentioned earlier, added that India’s national team require a bigger selection pool for coaches.

“We have good academy coaches in Croatia, it’s the most important basic thing in football to become successful one day and that’s what we are discussing with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) at the moment because we need a huge selection to start with, in India. To do a proper selection, we need to import 5-10 great academy coaches,” he explained.

The 52-year-old’s claim was backed by Dalic, who stressed the importance of having good coaches at the youth level, provided the grassroots level development ideas put forward by Rijiju have to bear fruit.

“You know that we have a lot of players who play at the biggest clubs, they are fantastic players, there are always a lot of good talents in our country and also a lot of good coaches who work with the young players. Somebody saw Modric, Rakitic etc and improved them,” Zlatko Dalic said, before signing off.

“When you play for the national team, you don’t need [extra] motivation. [At Croatia ahead of the FIFA World Cup 2018] my main task was to build the team and to keep them together. We were a big family and that’s the reason for our success. I know that’s not easy. It’s not only my job but of Igor [Stimac] and Niko Kovac before me who made the selections and in the last 10 years, everyone has been working [hard]. I was in the right place at the right time.”

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