The Indian national team has undergone a remarkable transformation in their playing style, showcasing significant improvements in gameplay in recent times. Gone are the days of sitting back and waiting for counterattacks; instead, they have shifted their focus towards a more proactive and possession-oriented approach. The team now emphasises ball retention, precise passing, and initiating attacks from deeper positions.

And the man behind this remarkable shift in their philosophy is their head coach, Igor Stimac. His leadership, meticulous planning, and tactical insights have instilled a strong conviction in the players, encouraging them to express themselves on the pitch.

Stimac took charge of the Blue Tigers back in 2019, and since that very day, he has started the process, and we are now witnessing the results.

“Football is a process and you need time to make huge changes. At my first press conference, I was very open, very sincere about what needed to be done. And the first goal was to change the mindset of the players. It is again a process which requires time,” Stimac stated in an interaction with Firstpost.

“Now we are in the stage where we have a national team which is making the Indian nation proud of the way they play, of their attitude, of their behaviour, of their warrior attitude which we instilled in them. They are like brothers on the pitch and that is what I like about them,” he added.

The fundament of the team has seen significant changes. They now begin every game with the same level of intensity, irrespective of their opponent.

Their confidence and belief in their playing style have been key factors in their success. The Blue Tigers have displayed an impressive offensive record, scoring 15 goals in their last nine games. Remarkably, their offensive prowess has not compromised their defensive solidity.

India are currently on a nine-match unbeaten run, but what’s even more remarkable is that they have had eight consecutive clean sheets, which is a joint record for the Indian national team.

The 55-year-old firmly believes in the philosophy that attack is the best form of defence. The current side boasts several players with tremendous stamina and endurance which enables them to execute their desired style of play effectively.

“The best way of defending your goal is attacking very high. Simple as that. And the selection we executed is perfect. We have enough runners in our teams; we have enough muscle strength now in our team because we have been working for the past four years intensively in the gym. Players were given individual training programs to be executed in the gym with their private coaches apart from the club training sessions,” Stimac stated.

India have recently faced tough opposition such as Lebanon and Kuwait and have dominated both teams. However, at the upcoming AFC Asian Cup 2023, they will face even stronger teams such as Australia, Uzbekistan and Syria.
Despite the formidable nature of the opposition, Stimac revealed that he won't change his philosophy and the mindset of the players. They will continue playing their natural game in the AFC Asian Cup.

“We are not going to change our philosophy because of the opponents, that’s not the way of doing things. Even if we don’t succeed, we are not going to stop trying. I don’t mind who is on the opposite side. That’s about our mindset at the moment,” Stimac commented.

“Whoever is there we are going to go up higher and attack with all the forces we have. That’s the India I want. That’s the India I see in the future. That’s the India which will bring all the football hearts together in this country and that’s the kind of culture we need to follow and we need to instil here,” he added further.

The Blue Tigers have undergone an extended training camp this time, which has played a crucial role in their play development and strengthening team bonding.

The Croatian coach has largely identified his core group of players whom he intends to take to the continental competition. However, he has not ruled out the possibility of including new players in the current set-up.

“We have a core group of players which is 23 players who are here (at SAFF Championship 2023), we do have players from the injury list and key players who are not here with us for various reasons and we do have a third list of players which are youngsters who are good prospects for the future and some of them might have good performance in the upcoming Hero Indian Super League (ISL) season, so we need to keep open the door for everyone, but I need to say that the core base of players for the Asian Cup is here,” Stimac said.

When asked about the significance of Captain Sunil Chhetri and whether his presence has made his job easier, Stimac responded: “Of course, he did. Not mainly (by) scoring goals. If he was not there some other players would have scored goals, I assure you about that. He didn’t keep playing because of his history. He kept playing because of his fitness level, because of his commitment, because of his leadership, because of everything he is doing for this nation.”

The Indian head coach acknowledges that no player is irreplaceable in his squad, he firmly believes that the team has suitable replacements ready in every position.

“He (Chhetri) is precious but no player is irreplaceable. Because we played games without Sunil (Chhetri) and we were successful. The unit can replace anyone and then through our work another striker will be there and he will start scoring with the time and work provided here,” Stimac signed off!