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Another one bites the dust

Igor Stimac sacked as AIFF and India get ready for transition

Igor Stimac sacked as AIFF and India get ready for transition

Igor Stimac’s five-year reign came to an end on Monday. file

Tribune News Service

Daman Singh

Chandigarh, June17

The clamour around Igor Stimac’s ouster had been growing louder ever since India failed to collect the six points against Afghanistan in their 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers with fans and former players voicing their displeasure earlier this year. Today, it reached a crescendo when the All India Football Federation (AIFF) finally decided to part ways with the 56-year-old Croatian.

Stimac’s five-year reign, having come on board in 2019 after Stephan Constantine, was put under a serious doubt after India lost 1-2 to Afghanistan, making one of the matches against Kuwait and Qatar a must-win. With India’s dreams of making the third round getting “killed” following a controversial 1-2 loss to Qatar, Stimac’s end as the national team’s coach, too, was nigh.

If one were to look back on his tenure, it will evoke mixed feelings. For, it was under him India savoured some of the best results in their history — like the 0-0 result against a mighty Qatar in their own den in 2019 — and it was him who led India to their worst ranking in seven years (117th) following a disastrous AFC Asian Cup.

That resounding thud in 2019 against Qatar might have offered an unblinkered look considering India’s future under him, and the high of 2023 — wherein India had the best run in terms of silverware, broke into the top-100 of FIFA rankings, went on an unbeaten run of 15 matches — only ripened the desire that he is the one to bring glory to Indian football.

But five years down the line, India have plummeted to 121st and digging into those feats is bound to make you feel otherwise since most of them were gained against the likes of Lebanon, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal etc., all ranked lower than India.

Against a well-rounded side, India have simply been sluggish, impotent or picked apart as depicted by their Asian Cup stint (0 goals in three matches).

Since taking over from Constantine, Stimac successfully abolished the long-ball tactics and got India looked to playing an attacking football layered with low passing. His craft usually plateaued on building out from the back and using the wings to make inroads. It did create a flutter among the fans but it was short-lived and the same could’ve never worked in the long run.

Modern football requires a team to have the ability to scythe through the middle and that’s what adds the silk to the playing style and opens up more avenues. This was simply missing during Stimac’s tenure and it became more apparent when the gloss of the 2023 high first began to fade. In 12 matches since winning the SAFF Championship in June last year, they have only won once — 1-0 win against Kuwait in the qualifiers. Since that goal, India failed to score from open play in six games until Lallianzuala Chhangte did so against Qatar lately.

In between, the dispiriting results led Stimac to hide behind the wall of excuses, demand a longer national camp and fire salvos after salvos at the ISL clubs for not giving Indians game-time as a striker and the Indian football ecosystem.

The last bit is understandable but the rest not so much.

While he must be credited for blooding the upcoming stars into the national set-up, his habit of blaming the players for a loss also became quite regular. His demands kept on rising as the returns diminished. And when Sunil Chhetri called time, it only put more pressure. The big decision called for a bigger transition, which has been aptly put into motion by the AIFF, with the first step being a change at the helm.

AIFF might have to pay Rs 3 crore

The termination of his contract exactly a year before it was to expire comes with a rider for the AIFF. As per a clause in the contract, the AIFF now might have to pay Stimac nearly $360,000 (Rs 3 crore approximately) as severance package, which is quite a hefty amount for a federation that has struggled for funds in recent years and has reduced its competitions budget this year.

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