Igor Stimac: Future tense for Indian football's messiah

Croat World Cupper hits back on social media, says it’s time for him to "put all the cards on the table"

Igor Stimac in jubilation during one of his team's recent wins (Photo: Twitter/Igor Stimac)
Igor Stimac in jubilation during one of his team's recent wins (Photo: Twitter/Igor Stimac)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

Barely two months back, Igor Stimac was being hailed as the messiah of the Indian football. However, things started to get sour for sometime now with the club-versus-country debate raising it’s head again – while adding fuel to the fire was raking up of an episode in media that the Croatian World Cupper sought an astrologer’s help for team selection of the final round of the Asian Cup qualifiers in June, 2022. 

Even as a countrywide euphoria ensued after Sunil Chhetri & co won back-to-back titles with the Intercontinental Cup and SAFF Championship, Stimac had been categorical about having enough preparation time (at least a three-week camp) before the Fifa World Cup qualifiers and the Asia Cup early next year. The Asian Games, an event not a part of the Fifa window, was a late addition to the national team’s already choc-a-bloc calendar this year and the clubs refused to release key players for it – as it is clashing with the Indian Super League (ISL) kicking off on September 21. 

A larger-than-life personality, with the trademark fiery Croat temperament to boot, Stimac had repeatedly questioned the intent of the ISL clubs about releasing of players for the national camp in the media – which led to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) issuing a show cause notice to him for ‘breaching of guidelines’. A safe guess is that the AIFF were left with no option but to rein in their famous coach as the Football Sports Development Limited (FSDL), a subsidiary of the Reliance Group and owners of the ISL had been the marketing partners and the biggest beneficiaries of the national body since 2009. 

What added to Stimac’s falling stocks with the AIFF was a report in the Indian Express on Tuesday – substantiated with telephonic messages between the coach and the so-called astrologer Bhupesh Sharma to pick the playing XIs for the crucial final round of qualifiers for the Asian Cup in Kolkata in May-June last year. Incidentally, allegations of paying a prohibitive sum of money as the astrologer’s bills (amounting to the tune of Rs 12-15 lakhs, a figure attributed to Kushal Das, former AIFF Secretary General in the story) was one of the election planks against the previous regime under Praful Patel last year. 

The Stimac issue continued to create a buzz on the sidelines of the build-up to the ISL, which began with the teams’ interaction with the media in Kolkata on Wednesday. Not known to pull back any punches, Stimac shot off a strong post in X on Tuesday: ‘’Target or honest fighter for the betterment of Indian football? The time is coming to put all cards on the table and see how much and who really cares about Indian football.’’ 

‘’Give it a thought before making up your judgement and thanks once again for your support. My dream of making India a football nation is still alive,’’ he wrote on the social media handle. When contacted, one of the insiders of the present AIFF dispensation says they are in no position to comment as the incident happened before they assumed power.  

The AIFF’s contract with Stimac officially runs out after the Asian Cup finals in February 2024. There are already reports that he may not be accompanying the less-than-full strength national squad to the Asian Games, The next few days will hence be crucial as one has to wait and watch if the man, who once coached the likes of Luka Modric, gets a chance to complete his term or drops a bombshell one of these days!

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Published: 13 Sep 2023, 5:01 PM