If the end of King’s Cup had left the Indian football fans with a tinge of excitement then the Intercontinental Cup has seen them reeling in depression now, staring into an abyss of uncertainty. With the path forward looking pitch dark at best, it is the manager who has to hold the mast strong.
Despite India having one of their worst performances in their recent football history, despite them going through a massive injury crisis that has engulfed some of the significant players, and despite the side shipping in 10 goals in three games with five of them in one single match for the first time in seven years, the biggest concern overshadowing them all is the manager – Igor Stimac.
Since the day he has been appointed, the Croatian hasn’t been anything but confident. And while the youngsters in the so-called new look-Indian side have evidently shared their coach’s enthusiasm from time to time, as far as the outcome is concerned, the progress has been zilch.
Stimac has chosen to ignore the score lines completely, time and again now, promising a strong performance in the World Cup Qualifiers and how he needs his players to take time and buy into his philosophy. However, a closer look at his statements in the press conferences laser points at the scepticism hiding under the calm countenance.
While Stimac kept on claiming that he needed to experiment with different combinations before he found his best eleven, which he didn’t lie about for he has been seen making 35 changes in his five starting lineups, ahead of the World Cup Qualifiers, Stimac was quite witty to blame it on the injury list when his experimentation reaped horrendous results for India.
He stated that one couldn’t call this an experiment as the squad was missing important players. Now, while this could be justified to a large extent, the experienced Croatian always knew he couldn’t be provided with the perfect conditions at all times, especially in India. Although a stretch, this also hinted at the coach’s inability in future to get the job done if he didn’t have the desired players for a match.
Getting the job done has been yet another question in Stimac’s method. Unlike his predecessor Stephen Constantine, Stimac’s intense focus on India’s style of play has carved open many chinks in their armour in the Intercontinental Cup. Playing the ball from the back requires tactically superior players, which India have lacked, hence Stimac’s ideal form of play could take months to formulate and the federation wouldn’t choose to overlook tournaments for so long.
What’s more concerning has been the manager’s complete disregard for the results despite the fact being largely known that India would come across numerous tactically superior opponents in the World Cup Qualifiers, like Qatar and Oman, making it almost impossible for the Blue Tigers to outplay them in this current rate of improvement.
And if one has been of the opinion that the coach was a man with the plan, then those perceptions were shattered broken last week itself when the coach ended up criticizing his players for their glaring individual first-half errors against DPR Korea before coming up with the most bizarre statement a gaffer could utter: “Some players are Maradona in training but in the games they disappear.”
India have been grouped in one of the better groups in Group E alongside Qatar, Oman, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. And while legends like Bhaichung Bhutiya have echoed the fans stating that India could have easily ended up in a tougher group and should be able to qualify, Stimac has downright played it as “a very tough challenge”.
This uncertain tune, which is drastically different from the one we saw just after his appointment, reeks of fear. And it is more a fear of approach over the eventual outcome, for the coach knows that against teams like Qatar, who almost gave Copa American giants a run for their money, his Indian side would fluff and horrendously.
Luckily, India would be hoping to have positive results against the likes of Afghanistan and Bangladesh, while a harder push against Oman could see the Blue Tigers advance from Group E. Honestly, India do have the required players who could take the side past this stage. However, how much of that would be possible with Stimac having second guesses is a different matter altogether, and one that is petrifying to ponder over.
Cricket FootBall Kabaddi