The Croat spoke about plans to bring in talent from both the ISL and I-League.

Indian football team head coach Igor Stimac was recently part of an enterprising conversation with popular television commentator Anant Tyagi, as he was put on the spot with questions from the fans.

Playing & Managing Youth

The Croat has been an avid backer of youth players in the country, but still maintained his reservations about playing youngsters very early in the national setup. He replied, “What fans think today is that if a player makes a few nice dribbles, passes 2-3 good balls it doesn’t mean he has to be immediately called to the national team.”

“Today, football needs players who have the capacity to attack and defend, who are capable to run enough and have enough strength to play at the top level. We are looking for players who will not only win us games against Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but also against Qatar and Japan in the future.”

On New Talent

The coach made good mention of talents like Michael Soosairaj and Farukh Choudhary, who have been vital for their respective clubs this season. Stimac went on to speak about the former stating that, “He has been a regular part of our camps. He has had stiff competition from players like Ashique (Kuruniyan), (Lallianzuala) Chhangte and some other boys as well. But, I’ve been impressed with his performances this season. In some games, he has been the most important player for ATK. He needs to adjust his game where he performs well without the ball, with running in behind the defence as well.”

Speaking on Farukh’s performances, Stimac said, “He has improved his game and his performances this season have been great. He made a difference in all the games he has played so far and provides great balls, does great runs behind defenders. We are looking at such kind of players for international games and so he played the last two games for us.”

The World Cup Dream

Igor Stimac was further asked to talk about the team’s vision for the FIFA World Cup in 2022 and the AFC Asian Cup in 2023. “We were very clear in our work when we started. We were going to change the style of play and gain experience through the (Asian) qualifiers and get to the group stages. If the chance to go to the next qualifying round for the World Cup was there, we would take it with both hands. But, after the loss against Oman, we knew where the track was leading us.”

“It was difficult to expect to get results after the Oman game and that something would change drastically. But, there is hope in what we are developing and preparing teams that will become mature and we want to make India a strong contender for the 2026 World Cup. It shouldn’t be a dream anymore, it should be a realistic goal.”

Opportunity For Newcomers

The Croatian is determined to give more players a chance, as a yardstick to improve the competition for spots in his team. He considers it a healthy exercise, but detailed his intent of giving opportunities.

He said, “I want to see competition in my side. We were talking about players like Edwin (Vanspaul), my answer is Seriton Fernandes (FC Goa). His team is performing well and so is he.”

“We need to have competition in the striking options, where we are short. We want to be like Barcelona who, for some time, didn’t have any strikers and had midfielders who could score. We are looking for players in both ISL and I-League, but I don’t have enough strikers, only Manvir Singh. The same is with central defenders. I cannot expect a full-back to play centre-back, but can make centre-backs to play full-backs.” said Igor Stimac.

Scouring The I-League

The 52 year-old further added, “We have organized scouting programs. For the I-League, I will personally go post the New Year after getting filtered information about players that may interest us.”

He then went on to provide a detailed insight into his attempt to get talent from the I-League by organizing a friendly between two teams containing the best performers from the I-League.

“I’m getting permission for it. To organize a friendly after the I-League season, to play two teams containing the best performers and to choose those among them, who are candidates for the senior team and offer them and their teams a preparatory camp of eight weeks to develop their abilities and techniques.”

Igor Stimac finished off by saying, “The door is open for everyone. If they play well, they will get in. But, it shouldn’t be one game, it should be the whole season. They need to have continuity in their form and their teams must also perform well. Because in football, it is never about the individual but about the team.”