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Why India head coach Igor Stimac not having time for the I-League is a problem

With Igor Stimac admitting to not having time to watch I-League games, what is the future for players like Bidyashagar Singh?

I-League Igor Stimac Bidyashagar Singh

Indian national team head coach Igor Stimac (Source: AIFF)


Sayan Chatterjee

Updated: 15 March 2021 10:34 AM GMT

Indian national team head coach Igor Stimac has recently stirred up a little bit of controversy. In an interview with Anant Tyagi, the Croat said that he 'didn't have more time to watch I-League games' before adding that he believes 'the base for Indian National team is ISL'.

While the second statement is to some extent true, what with the Indian Super League (ISL) now recognized as the top tier of football in India, this statement of his is problematic in multiple different contexts. First off, the I-League this season has seen some very good performances from Indian players. On one hand we have lesser known players like Roundglass Punjab's Ruivah Hormipam and Sudeva's Manvir Singh who are doing well for themselves. Then there is the obvious name of Trau FC's Bidyashagar Singh who has taken the league by storm with his clinical finishing and overall attacking play. In light of this, Stimac's comments might come off as discouraging for these youngsters who are looking to get some experience with one eye on the national team.

TRAU FC forward Bidyashagar Singh (Source: I-League media)

Stimac's statement also doesn't bode well for the overall visibility of the I-League which already has had to endure the knock-on effect of both the Kolkata giants East Bengal and Mohun Bagan migrating to the ISL. For clubs like Sudeva FC, Roundglass Punjab and others who are looking to build a base for themselves in their respective cities and states, such a comment might result in them being unable to hold on to their best players.

As curious as Bidyashagar's case might be, with 11 goals in 12 appearances including two fantastic hat-tricks, is something that is unheard of in Indian football. Which once again raises the question, are we moving towards treating the I-League as just a stepping stone for budding talents before they bag a big-money deal in the ISL? If that is so, then it is high time we stopped pretending otherwise.

Furthermore, with no chance of promotion to the ISL for the I-League teams for at least the next couple of seasons, it leaves them at an added disadvantage in terms of continuity between seasons. Especially if they keep losing players to bigger ISL sides. The bottom-line to this story is that merit has to be the only criteria for selection into the national team. If a player plays exceptionally well in the I-League and is deemed to be ready for the next step, there are always national camps, like the one India is scheduled to fly out for today, to test their mettle before making a judgement on their ability. That is where Stimac's statement comes across as almost naive and uncalled for.

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