Sunil Chhetri is of the opinion that the first tournament would be difficult for the newly-appointed Indian team coach Igor Stimac. The Indian men’s team will travel to Thailand for the four-nation tournament King’s Cup in the first week of June and that will be the first assignment for the Stimac.
After a long wait since the departure of Stephen Constantine following India’s exit from the AFC Asian Cup in January this year, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) finally announced the appointment of former Croatian manager Igor Stimac as the new head coach of the Indian men’s football team. The Indian team will play the first tournament – King’s Cup - under his guidance next month in Thailand.
However, skipper Sunil Chhetri has said that the first tournament will be little difficult for the new coach considering the fact that the Indian side doesn’t have a lot of time to prepare ahead of the start of the tourney.
“I think the first tournament will be a little difficult for him [Stimac], because the way I see it, the first camp will be announced on the 18th or 20th. If it was a running season, and he got in with 10 days before a tournament, it would still be fine. But it's not a running season... all the players are on rest,” Chhetri told ESPN.
“I've already texted all the boys on the group, and told them to make sure they are all working hard and they maintain their fitness. The least we can give to the new coach is a fitter team. He can readily get into the tactical aspect of the game, but if he has to bring all the boys and work on their fitness for a week or 10 days, then it's gone.”
Chhetri also spoke about Constantine and his role in building a good Indian side over the years. The striker opined that players like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sandesh Jhingan, Jeje Lalpekhlua, and Udanta Singh all came up and performed well in last five years when Constantine was at the helm of the Blue Tigers.
“Mr. Constantine left a good batch. When Stephen came, he had nobody. Probably the only seniors were me, Eugene [Eugenson Lyngdoh], [Subrata] Pal, and Anas [Edathodika] to an extent, but he had never played for India before. All the others were young, and they've all done well over the last five years. Especially, Gurpreet [Singh Sandhu], Sandesh [Jhingan], Jeje [Lalpekhlua], and Udanta [Singh],” the Indian skipper explained.
“So in that context, yes, he [Stimac] is going to get boys that have got their rhythm, but then it's a new start, and that comes with its own difficulties. His style of play, his philosophy is something he has to incorporate in us, and that takes time. The only good thing about this team is, with us Indians; we don't shy away from working hard. So, that's not a department where he's going to face problems.”
Constantine had decided to leave the Indian team right after India lost to Bahrain in their third game of the AFC Asian Cup in the group stage. India had bowed out of the tournament in spite of a spirited performance and Chhetri termed Constantine’s retirement as very abrupt.
“His retirement was very abrupt, because he did it right after the game. We were all mourning the fact that we couldn't qualify, and then he spoke. I understand he must have thought about it. I think [during] his time in India, he did really well. He is someone who was hardworking. There were few times when he and I didn't agree with some of the philosophies, but I did understand that as captain of the team, I had to go with whatever he says and thinks. Our chances of doing well are more when the thoughts of the coach and the whole team are in accord, and this is something I understood long back in my career.
“You might not like what the coach says, you might not agree with his plan, but the chances of your doing well are more when the whole team is with the coach,” Chhetri concluded.
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