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‘Football Shouldn’t Suffer Because of Cricket’: Igor Stimac Says Calendar Can’t Be Decided According to IPL

Indian men’s football team head coach Igor Stimac was in a different mood moments after Blue Tigers defeated Hong Kong in their final AFC Asian Cup qualifiers clash in Kolkata.

Gone was the jolly nature of the previous press conferences, having almost an air of earnestness.

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Once the pleasantries of the victory was over, Stimac steered the tone of the answers to more pressing matter regarding the game at large in the country.

“I have huge plans with India,” he had declared on the night, saying that we as footballing nation were “eight to 10 years behind the top-eight Asian countries” already.

The 54-year-old Croat questioned the timing of the upheaval in the All India Football Federation (AIFF), especially when the team were trying to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup.

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With Stimac’s contract being extended till September, he pointed out that he came to India for a “less salary” and had other offers elsewhere too, saying “coach was never the problem in this country, you should talk about other problems”.

He had a few demands on the night for him to continue beyond September, asking for foreigners to be reduced from I-League and the Indian Super League being played and stopped when he asks it to be.

Since then Dr. SY Quraishi, Supreme Court appointed CoA member to run Indian football and facilitate elections at AIFF, has assured that September is ‘far away’.

Stimac in an impromptu press interaction clarified that it is not how football works.

“One council member perhaps said since my contract is till September, there is time left. But he should know how football calendar works,” Stimac told members of the press on Saturday.

“I am committed to AIFF. I love India and want to take these youngsters to Asian Cup (in 2023) and show to the World that India can do better. Even half of my job is not done, so I don’t want to leave now. If the other side is going to be reasonable, I think it (renewal of contract) might happen soon say June or July so that things can start early for the national team,” he said.

Stimac eluded to ‘some stakeholders’ in Indian football who are focused on their own ‘projects’.

“When I took the job, I expected a far different situation. I expected everyone to be committed and ready to help the national team rise up. But some of the parties were concentrating on their own projects which was surprising, some of them didn’t understand what that means and how long it takes for the national team to rise up,” Stimac said.

“There is no one to blame but I was expecting more from the government on what football means in the country and how we can go forward in a quicker way. You all know that all the countries are using players of origin and India is the only country not using foreign players and it’s another handicap for the country.

“When I was coming here, I was expecting that I will be given all the tools available to make India bigger and greater but it didn’t happen obviously so I would rather concentrate on my job and try to make sure we don’t mess up what we need to do. Our hands were tied throughout the period and now it’s really necessary to remain focused on what we need to do. Less talk and much work,” he added.

Stimac also reiterated his concern over the Indian football season’s duration, saying that it is at the moment being run in accordance to another sport – cricket.

“Things need to be sorted out about the football calendar, which is still being adjusted with regards to IPL and broadcasting… This needs to stop if we want to make football great in India. Football calendar should not depend on other things,” Stimac said.

“India is blessed to have a sport as popular as cricket but shouldn’t be afraid to have another sport becoming as popular. And to do so, they need to open the door to football. Otherwise, it will not happen. Football shouldn’t suffer because of cricket,” he added.

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