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Stimac’s appointment a familiar story in Indian football

Jaydeep Basu



Croatian Igor Stimac has been named Indian football team's new football coach.

From Harry Wright to Stephen Constantine many foreign coaches have flattered to deceive Indian football

The selection of Igor Stimac as the national coach has come less than a month before India play the King’s Cup in Thailand – their first international campaign since the first round exit in Asian Cup.

The technical committee seems overwhelmed by Stimac’s presentations and according to Shyam Thapa, the head of the committee, the Croatian is “an impressive personality, with considerable knowledge of Indian football”.

A familiar story. Previously, whenever a foreign coach had been appointed, the situation looked hunky dory with the sun shining and having a comfortable temperature until dark clouds started to spread overhead.

From Harry Wright to Stephen Constantine, all were welcomed with great enthusiasm but things, somehow, were never the same at the end of their tenures.

Briton Harry Wright was India’s first foreign coach.

Wright was India’s first foreign coach – the Briton took over from legendary SA Rahim in 1963. Under him India finished runners-up in Asian Cup next year. But once India lost the double leg Olympic qualifiers against Iran, his coaching abilities were under scanner.

There were allegations that he encouraged indiscipline and indulged in long drinking sessions with some team members.

British coach Bob Houghton faced bigger trouble despite doing so much during his six-year stint between 2006 and 2011. He took India to the final rounds of Asian Cup after 25 years only to leave hastily after allegations of making racist comments surfaced against him.

Interestingly, a bunch of Indian referees accused Houghton of hurling racial abuses against them in September 2010 after India lost a friendly tie in Pune. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) sat over the complaint and raked it up in March 2011 when they wanted him out.

Houghton, they felt, was getting too big for his boots and his no-holds- barred approach while dealing with federation officials was creating lots of problems. The allegations of racial comments were used successfully to see the back of Houghton, arguably the best foreign coach to manage India.

Bob Houghton took India to the Asian Cup after 25 years but left on a bitter note.

“It is the lack of balance on part of both parties that causes the trouble,” says Shyam Thapa. “Some foreign coaches are too dominating. Unfortunately, they are being encouraged by a section of the AIFF officials.

“On Thursday, while the technical committee was conducting interviews for coaches, I was surprised by the attitude of one of the aspirants. Such practices should be curbed at the beginning,” added the former India footballer.

The federation faced similar problems with Stimac’s predecessor, Stephen Constantine. Despite his considerable successes, the Anglo-Cryptic coach was hardly popular with officials and senior footballers. They all wanted him out but it was too late.

The Asian Cup was fast approaching and bringing a new coach was out of question. Earlier, no one said a word when Constantine threw a senior member of the national team on a flimsy ground. To give him a long rope was a mistake.

Anglo-Cryptic coach Stephen Constantine was not a popular figure among Indian officials and senior footballers.

Stimac, according to one member of the technical committee, said during the interview that he preferred leaving midway through his contracts unless given the promised facilities to run a team professionally. One hopes nothing of that sort to happen here but few other foreign coaches faced such problems in India.

Milovan Ciric introduced modern coaching system in India but was forced out of the job.

Yugoslav Milovan Ciric was one of world’s most reputed coaches when he joined India in 1984. He made sweeping changes in the set-up, demanded top class facilities for players and introduced modern coaching system in India.

The team qualified for the Asian Cup final rounds but he had to go thereafter. A concerted campaign against him within the AIFF hastened his exit.

Hungarian coach Josef Gelei had similar experiences in India. He was an Olympic gold winner for Hungary in 1964 and managed the Hungary goal in the 1966 World Cup.

But here, he failed to manage the ever-interfering officials of the AIFF. Having taken up the India job in 1990, he left a bitter man within a year.

Things, definitely, have improved over the years; but again, not as much as claimed by the officials. Stimac said he has the vision to take India to the next level.

Hopefully, all stakeholders would extend the necessary cooperation to achieve the target. Unlike some others, the Croatian should leave India with happy memories.