AUGUSTO RODRIGUES | NT
Igor Stimac has been with team India for six months and at the end of his first quarter the assessment is not focused on how he has managed the team but rather on how long more it will take India to get football out of the morass it is in.
Statistics do not speak highly about what Igor has done so far. With India having to wait for another World Cup, to start its qualification campaign again, having lost five of its ten games since he took over, the writing on the wall would not have been good had football been played there. However, despite the bad statistics, the Croatian has shown that despite a few burps, football in India can grow.
Stimac started in June and came to Goa with 35 India probable’s on August 20 for his first preparatory camp. “I wish I had more time with the boys. The tournaments before this camp were important commitments we had to keep but I would have preferred to have spent that time training with the boys,” Igor had told this newspaper.
During the training in Goa Stimac focused on two aspects – fitness of the players and set pieces and it is these two areas that differentiated India’s performance during its World Cup qualification matches. India conceded five goals in the five World Cup qualification games and still has a chance of qualifying for the Asian Cup qualifiers because seventy per cent of the ten goals scored by India came from set pieces.
If the boys showed great improvement in set pieces they showed an even greater hunger in not giving up till the end and that’s why the team clawed back points when in previous instances the game could well have been written off as over. The ability to test opponents till the end is another dimension that can be credited to Igor.
Igor took over and based his team without having the opportunity to watch any one play because the 2019-2020 season was yet to start and so the new man had to do with the videos that were made available to him and this definitely did not leave him with a clear vision because he saw what was given to him to see.
From the games that India played it was evident that the defense was weak and it was further weakened with the injury suffered by Sandhesh Jhingan; that the midfield was weak and it got worse with the injuries suffered by Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Rowllin Borges; that the frontline was dependent on Sunil Chhetri with Jeje Lalpekhlua unable to recover so far.
Igor definitely needs to work a solution to break the impasse on the left flank because Mandar Rao Desai is definitely not the right man at the right place there. Stimac claims Mandar was selected based on the players recordings of the 2018-19 season. His assessment could have been different had he seen Mandar’s recordings when he played as a left winger, the previous season.
With Jeje out and Balwant Singh not impressing Igor the spotlight fell on Manvir who has proved, through the new coaches campaign, that he has a long way to go because to play for India is not akin to playing for one’s club. With Sunil Chhetri in dour form, India was left to the last minute equalisers that help little in the march forward.
Brandon Fernandes of Goa stood out through the five games and literally controlled the pace in the matches against Afghanistan and Oman. Brandon showed how he could create chance up front; take shots at goal; and fall back to help the defense. The Brandon that played for India was different from the Brandon that plays for FC Goa and this difference highlights how the presence of five foreign players in Indian Super League subdues Indian talent.
FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera simply cannot afford Brandon the luxury that Igor does and the boy from Goa took his chance to prove the football he has in him. Now that he goes back to his team, his routine will be different and these switch on and off may be cumbersome.
India still has a chance of qualifying for the Asian Cup, if it manages to hold Qatar in March and beat Afghanistan and Bangladesh in June. By then, the Indian League will have run its full course and Igor will have a chance to see the other hidden talent of the ‘sleeping giant’. He will not have much time to be with his boys but will have enough time to see for himself which players suit his style of play best.
India is abuzz with talent but like in the past, that talent has been sacrificed or overlooked. This is one morass that the country needs to come out and if Igor manages to get the country out of it, he could expect to do much better during his half term assessment.