The Croatian has been experimenting widely with his group of players as he seeks to identify his most balanced squad.

The experimentation process hasn’t really been the smoothest for Igor Stimac so far with the Indian national team. A revamped Intercontinental Cup brought up some ghosts of the past, with the Blue Tigers conceding nine goals in two games and being absolutely humbled by both Tajikistan and eventual champions DPR Korea. One positive from all this is Stimac is at least beginning to understand which combinations work the best and which ones to avoid.

The Croatian has been vocal from the beginning on giving a wide range of players opportunities to strengthen the national team and improve the squad’s depth as well. However, he obviously needs some players who can put on multiple shifts if necessary to give his side the cutting edge. Adil Khan, who plays both centre-back and defensive midfielder, has been positive from his reign. Similarly, Stimac can benefit from giving other versatile outlets opportunities to add a dynamic nature to his side. So here are five such versatile options which can diversify the Blue Tigers.

5. Edwin Sydney Vanspaul

The former Chennai City FC man was a consistent cog in the I-League for the past few seasons, evolving under Akbar Nawas in their title-winning campaign last time around. Vanspaul played as a right-back for the I-League champions last season, but is an extremely versatile player who can operate as a winger, centre-midfielder and even left-back.

He assisted many goals for Pedro Manzi and co last season, while often drifting into the middle to help his side control games. An aggressive tackler, impressive distributor of the ball with a never-say-die attitude ingrained in his game, the 26-year-old is a jack of all trades which can help add something new to Stimac’s side.

4. Lalruatthara

The Kerala Blasters full-back has taken big strides forward since joining the Indian Super League (ISL), as his fantastic work as a full-back earned him the Emerging Player of the Year award in the 2017/18 season. Lalruatthara continued his solid work in a disappointing season for the Yellow Army, averaging more than 4 tackles and nearly 4 clearances per game last season.


The left-back is good with long-range shots as well


He can operate equally well as a right-back or left-back, having the defensive aptitude to stand up and neutralize intimidating opposition wingers. Igor Stimac definitely needs better wing-backs to stop the floodgates from opening like they have recently and the 24-year-old Is ideal for that. Not only is he a clever defender capable of averting disaster, Lalruatthara’s foxy attacking nature makes him the versatile full-back to strengthen India’s depth.

3. Robin Singh

There’s been a real problem finding a proper goal-scorer apart from Sunil Chhetri for India and Igor Stimac has also reiterated his needs for better forwards. While Jobby Justin and Manvir Singh are still pretty inexperienced and Balwant Singh horribly misfiring, perhaps an old guard can do wonders. Robin Singh actually redeemed himself at FC Pune City last season, putting out some strong performances under Phil Brown.

He netted three goals and even assisted as many, but his impressive physicality and versatility in playing down the wing caught many eyes. Not only is he that bulky, bullying striker who can cause problems down the middle, but he’s also dynamic down the wing and could be the experienced, versatile striker Stimac is looking to complement his captain.

2. Harmanjot Singh Khabra

The unsung hero of Bengaluru FC’s ISL winning campaign last season, Khabra proved to be among Carles Cuadrat’s most trusted warriors on the pitch. He did everything he was asked upon, be it playing in defence, midfield or even higher up. The 30-year-old operated in centre-midfield, right-back and even as an attacking midfielder occasionally to help fill in the holes in Bengaluru’s shape and form.

Not only did he average 38+ passes per game, Khabra was also a persistent figure with his insistent tackling and crucial interceptions to set up the Blues going forward. He even assisted three goals, the same as compatriots Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh, proving his effectiveness and creativity going forward. Khabra last made his appearance in national colours almost eight years ago, but considering his growth in experience and versatility since then, he’s the dynamic cog Stimac is craving for.

1. Gaurav Bora

After the defeat to Tajikistan in the Intercontinental Cup opener, Igor Stimac defended Narender Galot’s mistakes by reiterating India needs great defenders going forward. Well, if he searches for more promising defenders, Gaurav Bora’s probably the first one to jump up in his list. The youngster was fantastic for Chennai City FC last season, transitioning from a midfielder to centre-back with relative ease under Akbar Nawas.


The defender was crucial in Chennai City’s title win last season


Bora developed a great partnership with Roberto Eslava, neutralizing intimidating attackers with his clever defensive skills and mobility in defence. Bora’s excellent distribution skills and work on the ball is why he’s also comfortable as a centre-midfielder, but it’s as a robust centre-back where he thrives. The defensive problems need a quick solution and if Stimac wants to create the next commanding centre-back for India, the Delhi Dynamos defender is primed to make an impact.