Igor Stimac: Did the Croat do enough to justify his hefty price tag?

AIFF braces for a legal battle for parting ways with the high-profile coach

Sacked head coach Igor Stimac with Sunil Chettri, recently retired captain (photo: M. Baranidharan/AIFF)
Sacked head coach Igor Stimac with Sunil Chettri, recently retired captain (photo: M. Baranidharan/AIFF)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

A terse press release on Monday evening, 17 June, said the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had sacked head coach Igor Stimac with immediate effect, but we certainly have not heard the last of the issue.

While the AIFF is bracing up for the possible legal challenges to be thrown at them by the Croat for what could be a hefty sum in compensation, they will nevertheless be putting out an advertisement for the next coach.

While the boot to Stimac, a former World Cup bronze medallist and national coach of Croatia was on the cards for the last few months, what has created a potentially messy situation is the absence of a standard termination clause in the two-year renewal contract awarded to him in 2023.

This entails that the AIFF needs to compensate Stimac with full salary for the next two years — amounting to a figure in the region of Rs 8 crore in Indian currency.

The AIFF, for its part, is ready to offer three months’ salary (Rs 75 lakh) to the outgoing coach — which is not likely to be acceptable to him. What weakens the AIFF’s case is that while Stimac’s initial two-year contract penned in 2019 mentions a notice period, it was removed when the extension was drawn up last October.

The question is: how did such a crucial change in the clause escape the notice of all of the top brass? Or did the federation agree to Stimac dictating terms that would ensure that he could not be sacked at the drop of a hat?

Whatever be the case, Stimac seems to be in no mood to relent and the only solution left before the warring parties (AIFF vs coach) is to try to reach an out-of-court settlement.

While the AIFF officials maintain that the Croat should honour his own words at one of the pre-match press conferences that he would step down on his own should the Blue Tigers fail to make the third round of the 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers, they have denied reports of Stimac insisting that the AIFF top brass should then also resign with him for the team’s failure.

The important question now is: Did Stimac’s five-year tenure merit a sack ahead of the completion of his term?

The cold facts have not been very flattering to the head coach, either, as out of 53 internationals played under him, India have won 19, lost 20 and drawn 14 — translating to a rather modest percentage of 35.8 per cent won. They have won four trophies under him too: the SAFF Championships twice in 2021 and 2023, a Tri-Nation Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, both in 2023.

The winning sequence of three trophies in 2023 had created a welcome hype about football in the country, though things went back to square one after a hastily assembled national team failed to proceed beyond the final 16 in the Asian Games.

The just-concluded World Cup qualifiers again saw them being goal-shy, starting the campaign with an away win over Kuwait before lapsing into a barren run which meant curtains for them.

There was also a string of disappointing results in the three group games of the Asian Cup finals in Doha, though in all fairness, it must be said that the Blue Tigers were in one of the toughest groups alongside Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria.

Their Fifa ranking, which rose to 99 last year, has slipped to 121 at the moment.

Five years is a fairly long rope in the life of an international coach and Stimac has enjoyed that — with a hefty salary of $30,000 per month (Rs 25 lakh approximately), along with other perks. He had promised to bring about a change in mindset in the Indian team to help them punch above their weight — a dream which has been only partly realised.

However, there is only that much that Stimac could have done with the current lot.

While the AIFF has a right to call the failure to move further in the World Cup qualifiers a 'disappointing outcome', the new Indian coach will have the nucleus of a decent squad that Stimac had handpicked — and will get to start afresh, with his own slate clean, with further tournaments under the FIFA umbrella from September. And of course, he will be less expensive.  

But the AIFF needs to find a viable solution for parting ways with Stimac equitably and honourably first!