AIFF is on a race against time to select their national team coach as the Blue Tigers gear up to play in the King's Cup after 38 long years. With the shortlist narrowing down and Croatia’s Igor Stimac being amongst the frontrunners now, we look at the pros and cons of getting him in the position.
Claim to Fame
Known more popularly to the English fans for his stint with Derby County in the 1995-96 season, where he had scored a goal on his debut and despite the Rams not winning that match, they went on to get promoted that season. He played for West Ham United following that but his career wasn’t as eventful with the Hammers. On the international level, Stimac was always a talented defender and was a part of the very highly-talented Yugoslavia under-20 team, which went on to win the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship in Chile. Stimac would later be the coach of the Croatian national team that won the bronze medal at the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
However, it is his coaching career we should be more concerned with and unfortunately, it is paved with neither trophies nor hope. Taking over from Slaven Bilic, Stimac saw the national team approach the World Cup Qualifications in tremendous fashion garnering 16 points from first six games. However, the cracks soon started coming off from over the cracks and Croatia drew 1–1 against Serbia, won narrowly 3-2 against Liechtenstein, and a 1-2 loss to Belgium against others. Stimac was an unpopular figure in his own nation for his negative football and in a newspaper pool, 98% of voters had voted in favor of sacking Štimac. But, despite his underwhelming national stint, Stimac somehow managed to take Croatia's FIFA Ranking to 4th position after Spain, Germany and Argentina respectively.
Following his national stint, Stimac took charge of the Croatian side NK Zadar, Iranian club Sepahan, and the Bahrain national side with his average point per game not even crossing 1.
Also, players like Mateo Kovačić, Alen Halilović, and few others made their debuts for the Croatia national football team during Štimac's stint.
Playing as a centre-half throughout his career, Stimac has understandably focused more on securing his goalkeeper, over-playing the style that is loved by the masses. And his stint with Croatia was a testament to it especially in the matches they struggled. A closer look at his preferred setups are 4-3-3 defending, 5-3-2, 5-4-1, 4-4-2 double 6, 4-4-2 diamond, 4-3-1-2, 4-3-3 defending, 3-4-2-1, and similar others. His affinity to commit fewer people up front did see Croatia score more from set-pieces and opponents’ defensive errors, but the trial and error method was never going to make the cut.
How will it fit in Indian setup
Defence has been an area the Blue Tigers have struggled of late, which was evident in the AFC Asian Cup earlier this year. Indian’s experience at the back pretty much ends with Gurpeet Singh Sandhu and Sandesh Jhingan. The emerging players like Rahul Bheke, Pritam Kotal, Nishu Kumar and others are more attack-minded with flexible positional adaptability and would struggle to adhere to Stimac’s purist defensive playing style.
While Sam Allardyce also has a similar style of football, his attacking outlets are way more than Stimac and India aren’t an attacking side that could take two of the two chances that would get in a match. Another problem with his preferred formations on the Indian setup could be the amount of attacking talent India has. The vibrant youth pool that ISL has generated over the last few years would be a waste if India adapt a style that is predominantly defensive. Defence is of course more important than attack in football, but we would be needing a coach who would work best with what he has and not have to dig deeper for under-par players every now and then.
While it hardly worked in any of the sides he managed throughout his managerial career, India’s case looks bleaker. India could be the lowest ranked side Stimac would be managing and they can easily be clubbed amongst the lesser technically superior and physically supreme side. The AFC Asian Cup was a clear indicator of that where India, despite playing competitively against UAE and Bahrain, looked the dominated side for their sheer lack of physicality.
Hence, India’s only hope in the future would be to play to their strengths and given the current scenario, it is their agile wide forwards. To exact their counter-attacks, India need to be sharper and tactically Stimac hasn’t been known to be that. Hence, he might be the quickest to adapt to the Asian scenario amongst the available candidates, his efficacy remains a doubt.
Lastly, and most importantly, India need someone who would be there to stay with the players regardless of the result, which is expected to undergo severe upheaval in the initial stages. And longevity doesn’t look like one of his forte. His stint with Zadar ended just after six months as he quit after the club was relegated to the second division. He left Sepahan under similar circumstances as the club finished 11th in the league and were out of both Hazfi Cup and AFC Champions League.