Top Indian candidates to replace Igor Stimac as National Team Coach

With the AIFF ending Igor Stimac's tenure, attention turns to potential Indian coaches like Khalid Jamil and Mahesh Gawli each deeply familiar with Indian football.

Update: 2024-06-20 12:25 GMT

Igor Stimac (Photo credit: AIFF)

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced the termination of Igor Stimac's tenure as head coach of the Indian men's football team last week. This decision came after the Blue Tigers' poor performances in the AFC Asian Cup and their early exit in the second round of FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers.

Stimac had previously agreed to extend his contract if India qualified for the third round of the Asian qualifiers, a milestone that would have made him the longest-serving foreign manager in Indian football history. However, with India’s World Cup aspirations dashed following a disappointing defeat against Qatar, the AIFF has decided to search for a new manager.

For the past 18 years, the AIFF has predominantly relied on foreign coaches, with only two Indian coaches, Armando Colaco and Savio Medeira, given the opportunity to advocate for local coaching talent. This moment might present an opportunity for the federation to consider a homegrown manager who understands the intricacies of Indian football.

The pressing question now is, "Who will succeed Igor Stimac?" Will the board opt for an experienced elite international coach, or will they appoint an Indian manager for a long-term tenure?

Today, we examine the top five Indian candidates who could potentially replace Igor Stimac, each deeply familiar with the roots of Indian football.

1. Khalid Jamil

Khalid Jamil commenced his managerial career in 2009 with Mumbai FC in the I-League, where he guided the team to an impressive 11th-place finish, keeping them out of the relegation zone despite limited financial resources. He maintained the club's top-flight status for seven consecutive seasons before transitioning to Aizawl FC, where he led the team to the 2016–17 I-League title, marking the first such victory for a club from Northeast India. Jamil's initial engagement in the Indian Super League (ISL) was with NorthEast United, serving as the Head of Academy in the 2019-20 season. His breakthrough came in the 2020-21 season when he was appointed interim head coach, leading the Highlanders to the playoffs with a remarkable 10-game unbeaten streak. Jamil became the first Indian manager to reach the ISL semi-finals. Following his tenure at NEUFC, he had brief stints with Bengaluru United and Chitwan FC before returning to the ISL as the head coach of Jamshedpur FC.

Khalid Jamil (Photo credit: NEUFC media)

Under Jamil's guidance, several Indian players at NorthEast United significantly improved their performance. He is known for his pragmatic coaching style, often employing a 4-2-3-1 formation with a strong emphasis on defensive stability.

Mahesh Gawli

Mahesh Gawli has served as the deputy to Igor Stimac since 2022 and possesses in-depth knowledge of the current squad. He also had additional responsibilities managing the U-23 side, making him a strong candidate for the head coach role. Under Gawli's leadership, India managed to beat Kuwait and Lebanon in the previous SAFF Championship when Stimac was suspended. Operating in a 4-3-3 system, Gawli focuses on building play from the back and winning aerial duels, with a significant influence on younger players that could positively impact India’s future plans.

Derrick Pereira

Derrick Pereira, who played as a central midfielder for India from 1984 to 1991, is known for his intelligence on the field rather than physical prowess. This acumen, combined with his passion for the sport, makes him an ideal candidate to guide Indian football forward. At Salgaocar FC, he implemented a Dutch-inspired football system under the guidance of Dutch coach Raymond Verheijen, leading the team on a dream run before losing the league title to Bengaluru FC. Pereira joined FC Goa in 2017, initially as head of youth development and assistant manager for the first team, eventually becoming the club's technical director. If the AIFF is seeking a dependable long-term manager, Derrick Pereira could be the ideal choice.

Clifford Miranda

Clifford Miranda began his coaching career with FC Goa's youth team, securing victory in the Goa Professional League in his inaugural season. His success in the youth ranks earned him a promotion to assistant coach under Sergio Lobera in 2019. Miranda later served as interim manager at FC Goa, leading the club to a league title and becoming the first Indian club to qualify for the AFC Champions League group stage. In his second stint with an ISL club, Odisha FC, he helped them win their first major title, the Super Cup, and was named the AIFF Men’s Coach of the Year in 2023. As the current head coach of the Indian U-23 side, Miranda’s deep knowledge of youth development and infrastructure could be pivotal for India’s vision for 2047.

Bibiano Fernandes

Bibiano Fernandes is regarded as one of the promising upcoming coaches in India, with significant experience managing Indian youth teams. Under his guidance, India won the SAFF U-15 Championship in 2017 and 2019, and the U-16 team reached the quarterfinals of the 2018 AFC U-16 Championship, eventually losing to South Korea. Currently managing Bengaluru FC's B side, Fernandes' expertise in youth coaching could be crucial for the development of Indian football in the coming years.

While IM Vijayan, chairperson of the Technical Committee, mentioned that the federation is open to considering Indian coaches, the AIFF's criteria include 10-15 years of experience in World or Continental qualifiers, an AFC/UEFA Pro license, and a proven track record at elite youth and senior levels. 

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