Stimac lauds Hero ISL 2020-21’s success; sees bright future for Indian football

Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21 proved to be a grand success with plenty of fresh faces receiving a call-up to the national team as a reward for their solid displays over the course of the campaign. The Blue Tigers are currently in Dubai with a 27-man squad for a preparatory camp ahead of India’s friendlies against Oman and UAE later this month. Head coach Igor Stimac sat down for an Instagram Live Q&A session with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Thursday and the Croatian insisted that the influx of several new players to the side won’t have any bearing on the team’s approach.

“It doesn't change our approach. Everyone who is here, is here on merit. They earned it through the Hero ISL season which was fantastic. I was really impressed with some of the youngsters. Most of them came through the youth development program, most of them were part of the U-17 World Cup generation. I'm really happy that once again, this project [Hero ISL] is very successful and is bringing a brighter future to Indian football,” Stimac said.

When asked about his selection process for narrowing down the 27-man squad, Stimac said: “It was a conglomeration of different factors [that went into deciding the squad]. There are some players who proved already that they can play really well at the international level. So, some bad performances cannot erase them from the list for the national team. But most of the players here are on the merits of the form that they have shown in the past Hero ISL season. As I said, they all earned the call.”

He went on to describe the Indian senior national team as a family. “We are like family. This is a family circle and we fight for each other. We live together, we breathe together and there is no reason for anyone to feel scared or have any kind of fear. Not a single player will be eliminated for one or two mistakes. What we are trying to work on is to not repeat these mistakes. As I mentioned before in a few interviews, we became a team which is very difficult to beat because of our [hard] work. We are not conceding many goals, which was proven in the qualifiers,” Stimac shared.

As far as the upcoming friendlies are concerned, Stimac is looking to use the clashes against Oman and UAE as an opportunity to improve. “From the very beginning I said that we are not going to look for easy opponents in the friendly games when we get a chance. So, my philosophy is that we can improve only by playing against better sides, better players and better teams. That's what we're trying to do. So, immediately when we found out that the qualifiers will be postponed for June, within 24 hours, with the help of Mr Abhishek Yadav [Deputy General Secretary, AIFF] and Kushal Das [General Secretary, AIFF], we confirmed two friendly games against Oman and UAE, which was not easy, but we were working hard,” he said.

Stimac added: “Immediately after we found out that the qualifiers were postponed, we got a great opportunity to play against two of the best teams in Asia. So, this is a great chance, nothing to fear about, we need to be ready to come out on the pitch without any fear and play our game. Try to do what we do on the training pitch, play with freedom and try to make transitions both ways. [We also need to] try to handle the possession well and enjoy our football. That's all what I'm asking from our players.”

Looking ahead beyond the friendlies, Stimac revealed what lies in store for the Blue Tigers prior to their qualifiers in June against the likes of Qatar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.It's on the table actually. In the next few days, we need to finish planning for the upcoming camps. It's not going to be easy to handle everything because we have three clubs involved in Asian competitions – FC Goa, ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC. They are involved in the AFC Cup and AFC Champions League throughout April and May, which will make our work difficult but not impossible. I will discuss everything with our technical department. I would love to start the camp somewhere at the end of April. This basic work should be provided in India, where we can test all the players and do the basic aerobic work,” the 53-year-old said.

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