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Stimac walking a fine line with plea for reduction of foreigners in Indian football

Jaydeep Basu

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Igor Stimac
Igor Stimac's latest appeal is likely to fall on deaf ears. Photo: @Twitter

New Delhi: Igor Stimac last week said a few things which didn’t exactly raise too many eyebrows. The national coach was trying to drum the soul awake. He didn’t know it had already been sold, not very long ago.

The Croatian coach spoke about the need to reduce foreign footballers’ quota for the top-tier clubs. Every national coach since the days of Syed Nayeemuddin has been saying this. Of no avail.

“My suggestion for top tier (league) in the country is to follow AFC rule of 3+1, that’s the basic rule for number of foreign players. It’s not strange that that most successful Asian countries are following that rule and that is why they are successful,” Stimac said.

Stimac obviously is desperate though he may not like to admit it. His anxiety must have reached the next level after the start of the World Cup qualifiers. Lack of goal scorers has badly dented his plans.

To say Stimac was wasting his time would be harsh. But not wrong. Not that the people he has been trying to address are not sympathetic to him. Or don’t understand his problems. They simply have no power to oblige him.

Stimac would be lucky if the right people at helm of things suddenly opts to listen to his suggestion. But there is also a chance the coach may be “requested” to shift his position. It had happened before.

In 2015, the then national coach Stephen Constantine described the quality of country’s top league as poor. “It has not done anything specific to improve the fitness of the players in the Indian squad,” he added.

Home-grown strikers: A prisoner of Indian football’s foreigner-oriented approach

Constantine definitely had a change of heart. In April, 2017, he said the league had made India universal. “It has told everybody in the world that Indians not only play football but we’re not bad either, and we have some good players,” he said, to quote him exactly.

Constantine can’t be faulted. A coach is entitled to change his opinion according to his experience. Yet, in November, 2018, he said something very similar to Stimac.

“Our boys would rather play wide right, left back. When it comes to the Indian clubs, 90% of the teams look to sign foreign strikers and as a result, the young Indian talents tend to avoid the position. As a result, we have a dearth of talent when it comes to the strikers.”

But why blame the top league alone for the influx of foreign recruits? They had no hand behind change of rules when I-League too allowed five foreigners in the starting line-up in 2017. The two Kolkata clubs played backroom pressure politics to increase the quota.

Several non-Kolkata clubs were sceptical about the change. But then, the league committee of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) could never be accused of being packed with far-sighted people. Their stamp of approval came quicker and faster than one expected.

The two Kolkata clubs had their own arguments. When you play two parallel leagues and that, too, simultaneously, there is bound to be dearth of quality footballers. So, the foreign quota should be increased.

Despite ‘rapid growth’, Indian domestic football moving at a snail’s pace

They were not without reasons. A debate on the issue would have further exposed how badly the parallel league system was handled by the parent body. Under obvious pressure from certain quarters. So, the need of the hour was to get if off the back quickly. To succumb to the demand.

The inevitable has happened. In the ongoing top league, only one Indian figures in the list of top 10 scorers. Things are worse in I-League. Footballers from Cameroon, Spain, Senegal, Japan, Trinidad, Uganda etc. have found the net far more frequently than Indians.

Presence of quality foreign players obviously make things look brighter. It definitely adds value to the standard. Agreed. It has its negative effect too. Especially when one faces sterner tests under AFC rules.

The disappointing defeat of Bengaluru FC in AFC Cup recently is a clear testimony. Time Stimac’s words were taken seriously. But those who have the power to take decisions are too busy to protect their self-interest.

Thin talent pool, low match count: Problems aplenty for Indian football coach Igor Stimac

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