Indian Football: We are not the India that concedes many goals says coach Igor Stimac
The Indian Football team coach Igor Stimac won his first trophy for the country when he led India to the SAFF Cup 2021 championships. He spoke to the Indian media after his victory.
The Indian National Men's football team coach Igor Stimac won his first laurels for India when the Blue Tigers beat Nepal in the final of the 2021 SAFF Championships. Goals from Sunil Chhetri, Suresh Wangjam, and Sahal Abdul Samad helped India to get an emphatic win in the SAFF Cup final.
The Indian team did not start the way they wanted to in the tournament when they drew with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka but the Blue Tigers turned their fortunes around, and bet Nepal and Maldives to reach the final of the tournament. Igor Stimac was suspended for the finals because he was sent off in the last group game against the Maldives. and hence was not at the touchline for the final. The Indian team beat Nepal comfortably and helped Igor Stimac win his first trophy for the Blue Tigers.
The coach spoke to the Indian media today and expressed his feelings about the SAFF Cup and the plan ahead with respect to the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers and what he expects from his players in the Indian Super League.
Here is the full press conference:
Sunil has been scoring most of the goals so do you see Manvir stepping in and how will this problem be solved or any other names also if you want to mention whom you see in the near future coming up the ranks?
They (Manvir & Sunil) are settling down as partners on the pitch. We are working on Manvir so that he can improve his game. It is not easy as in the club (ATK Mohun Bagan) he has Roy Krishna. He plays as a winger in ATKMB. But playing games is a great benefit for Manvir. He has the quality and energy to develop as a striker, for now, we see him as a great partner for Sunil.
What were some of the goals for the team in the SAFF Championship the takeaways from the entire championship how do you see that?
Coach as you say the team did not start well in the SAFF but the manner they wanted to end it. What were the things you implemented that changed the entire scenario in the camp and the performance on the pitch?
The first two games of the SAFF Championship looked bad only because of the results but the rest of the statistics were good.
You had a small jig after Chhetri scored India's second goal against the Maldives. We enjoyed it. How important is Chhetri's influence as a key player in the team?
Of course, Chhetri's influence is key for this team. It's not just his goals but he is a role model. he is the most passionate man in the team which is incredible at his age. He plays because he deserves it. His physical condition is remarkable.
Over your playing career, you have won many laurels for yourself and your country. But as a coach for India the first championship victory and trophy which you have won, any special feelings?
Feelings are special for the players. Togetherness, positive attitude & great mindset. They fought together and they worked very hard in very difficult circumstances. There was not much understanding, there was a lot of criticism.
Did you see any fixed eleven playing each and every day in the SAFF Championship? You prefer changing your players. Is it as per the opponent which you see or any specific reason for that?
We can't keep the same eleven, firstly because there are too many matches in a few days. Secondly, we face different types of opponents and we are happy we have diversity.
What excited you the most about the team's performance at the SAFF Championship?
(We showed) Togetherness, positive energy, and a great mindset. We didn't have a great start but we didn't have the best preparation. Nepal had 2 months to be ready and they deservedly reached the final.
What are your expectations from the u-23 team given the fact there are many talented players but not that much time to prepare?
I would say about time at all but that's not the problem. The problem is we don't know anything about other teams. We couldn't see them. We have just got some getting information now and hopefully until this evening we will have some information about other teams. Of course, every country has got talented youngsters players playing already at the senior level. We do have also but we need to find the balance in this team and the good thing for us is that we already had 11 or 12 players from these bunch of players here who were part of the national team. They know what kind of work to expect here with us next few days and what are our expectations. Our aim is always the same. We go out there to win each and every game. So, it can depend on the approach we take depending on the information we gonna get about the strength of the opposition.
Is the central defense an area of concern for the national team coach you feel? Because not many Indian players play in the domestic league in those positions.
With the pandemic going on, we cannot count on a season that will go on for eight-nine months. That is the biggest problem in Indian football. Our last ISL season was supposed to start at the end of August and finish in May which would be fantastic for the national team. But working like this in a way that players are coming to the national team's camp always off the season doesn't help at all.it's hysterical to spend time on a strength conditioning program and upgrade the fitness level of the players instead of working on the game plan or some tactical points. It's very difficult to come to the game point when you can expect great things to happen. But hopefully, we gonna soon get a normal season like other countries we are looking up to because we wanna get into top ten in Asia as soon as possible and to do so we need to get quality of the internal competition in the same level at least like other countries from top 10. Same development in academies, the same quantity of investments in other things. China is investing billions of dollars in football, they have five million kids in structured academies, thousands and thousands of foreign coaches in those academies and still, it is not enough. They are trying to qualify for the world cup and don't think it will happen. If we are dreaming to qualify for the world cup it is a massive process and other countries are doing much more than us in this regard in every aspect. But we must be supportive of the process.
In reference to India's SAFF Championship performance, how many boxes could you tick in your objective of making the National team a successful unit?
Two and half years ago I took up this job because of the technical committee which is formed by ex-players. They understand what and how long it takes to build a more technical team. The process that is involved and the suffering that we must go through. We started restructuring the team from the very first day as we opted for more technical and ball possession football and more technical players. The only result that we made mistake in was the result against Bangladesh in Salt Lake (1-1 draw). We could not play all the home matches in the WCQ and still, we qualified for the third round. We have ensured that the footballers have increased their football knowledge about nutrition, individual training, and the importance of rest. We have some very important players on the pitch and then we have players who can fill in. In every position, we have at least three players with similar qualities. Therefore we are not afraid of losing anyone. We have to take one step forward and play good football in the third round and ensure qualification for the Asian Cup.
How much has Liston Colaco improved in the national team?
Liston Colaco is someone I consider who might become very important to our future. He has got speed, he can score goals, he is tactically good. Of Course, Liston has to develop his defensive part of the game and responsibility off the ball, and he will become a top player. For now, he is in a group of players who can give us something extra when we play stronger oppositions.
How do you consider Lalengmawia Ralte (Apuia) and Sahal Abdul Samad as the mainstay of the team for the future?
They are the same as others. They are attached to these guys, not only these two but also Thapa, Yasir, Suresh. They are young players who give us extra energy on the pitch. It is easier to learn at this age because these players can react and learn things. It is much difficult to succeed with elder players. With these youngsters, I am so happy because they give us a lot of energy, and they have a bright future.
There are a lot of talented youngsters in the squad but the best player in the squad is now 37. How do you look at it?
I consider Sunil as the best player. I never look at the age of the player. If I looked at the age, I never put an 18-year-old in the team. What matters is what they do on the pitch.
Coach your view on the biennial World Cup plan of FIFA every two years. Your thoughts.
As India coach, I'm excited about this but we need to know what it is about. If it's only about money then there are no benefits. I want it to happen but I need to listen to all the benefits.
You have been involved with the Indian Arrows closely. Your assistant coach Shanmugam Venkatesh being the head coach in Arrows. How do you look at the development of the junior Indian teams?
Indian Arrows is a very important project and must continue as it gives a platform to the players that don't get time to play in the ISL. It is also the reason why we let Shanmugam be there, he has been a great coach.
Sandesh Jhingan wasn't available for the SAFF Championship. How do you see and what do you make of Sandesh's move to Croatia?
It shows what a great character Sandesh is. To come out of his comfort zone and play at such a high level shows his ambition. The Croatia League is at a much higher level than you may think. Important he succeeds there.
What's the role ahead of the Asian Cup qualifiers?
If we want to succeed, then we need to prepare now. Sit down with stakeholders & discuss how much time NT will get to prepare. We need to make sure that the February opening is part of the ISL calendar. If we get time, we can get results. We don't know yet who will be playing. We need to prepare for the third round. We need to sit with stakeholders and find out how much time the national team will get. If we get time to prepare then he playing and results will be good. Otherwise, it will be a gamble. We have to make sure that all the players are released from the club for these games,
The Indian Super League begins on 19th November, and Igor will hope that the players get into the game zone, and are ready for the all-important third-round qualifiers of the AFC Asian Cup 2021.