Igor Stimac, the head coach of the Indian football team, said that there are not enough players with requisite technical ability to make the senior side competitive enough.
Speaking to the media on Friday following India’s recently concluded World Cup qualification campaign, Stimac said that the stakeholders of Indian football should look at this fact and devise a system that would help Indian footballers have enough games to grow in terms of technical ability. “To be honest there are not many players with the technical ability. As a national team we suffer all the weakness that is apparent in the country’s top league, the ISL. This happens when most of the important positions in the team are occupied by foreign players. This definitely limits the choice when we go to select the Indian players,” Stimac said.
India’s World Cup chances were over when it finished third in its group but that result helped it move to the third round of the 2023 Asian Cup qualfiers. Stimac reiterated his stand that Indian players needed to play more than 40 games a season to develop the necessary skill-set for an improved performance in the national team. “They need to play more than 40 matches a season. It is only then that they can compete against the best in the continent. The clubs need to be playing football for a longer period otherwise the players will be sitting idle for half of the year,” he said.
He would prefer to start the national camp in August and prepare the team for the Asian Cup qualifiers scheduled in February by playing regular friendlies abroad. “We have to exploit the FIFA calendar and start the camp in August. We would like to play two friendlies in September and if the ISL starts late we can continue playing friendlies in October and November. Once the ISL starts the players will be having enough competitive matches before the February qualifiers,” Stimac said.
Stimac’s contract with All India Football Federation (AIFF) expires in September and the former World Cupper from Croatia hoped that the National federation would be appreciating the qualitative progress the national team made under him on the various parameters of improvement. “When you start selecting players according to the game-plan you want to put in place it is long process. I was brought by the AIFF to bring in a change. We wanted to progress from counter-attacking football to a more progressive football that has more control over the game.
"It is about improving the passing and accuracy and we can say we made a lot of improvement going by the stats made available by InStat (a sports performance analysis company),” Stimac said.
“In the given circumstances we could not deliver more. But we managed to provide a good platform for the future. The future course now depends on the technical committee members of the AIFF,” he added.
“National team exploits the products which available in the clubs. National team is not an academy and we can only have the players available in ISL and I-League in the country’s top league. We achieved a lot in regards to conditioning the players on a lot of physical and mental parameters. But what we are missing is giving enough professional football time to the players. We had agreed on a plan for a longer season and more matches to the Indian footballers but the pandemic came to curtail our plans,” Stimac said.
He said that India’s defensive performance improved a lot. “We conceded just seven goals in the qualifiers this time as against 18 conceded in the previous attempt.
"Again we just conceded one goal against the Asian champion (Qatar) while playing in their home twice. This shows that we did the defensive work quite well. In the middle third, which needs players who are better with the ball and have better passing accuracy, we did a pretty good job there too. All the players like Barndon Fernandes, Sahal (Abdul Samad), Liston (Colaco), and (Anirudh) Thapa who have good ability and understanding of the game. But they have their limitations too,” Stimac said.
Talking on the areas of improvement, Stimac said Indian players have been falling short on many areas. “I have analysed many players and found their areas of strength. Someone has a good passing ability while the others have good understanding of the game. But they all fall short when it comes to good muscle strength and speed. I have tried to compare our youth team with that of the teams of Iran and France and on every occasion I found our boys have seven to nine kilos less muscle mass on an average.
"This is a big difference. The same happens when we talk about speed and game understanding,” Stimac said.
As a solution, Stimac called for a long term plan to involve more high quality foreign coaches in the academies with the objective of helping the Indian coaches improve their skills to train the young players.
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