New Delhi: Igor Stimac will stay on as the Indian men’s football team’s head coach for another two years along with his assistant Mahesh Gawli, after agreeing on a contract extension with the AIFF (till June 2026), with an option of extending it for another two years, depending on on-pitch results.
Appointed in 2019, the Croat has tutored the team in the 2022 Qatar World Cup cycle where India couldn’t get out of the second round of qualifiers, but guided them to the AFC Asian Cup, for which he is currently plotting with a Merdeka Cup game against hosts Malaysia on October 13.
As reported by News9 SportsStimac was in negotiations with the All India Football Federation during the last few days after arriving in Delhi following his duty at national team’s Asian Games 2023 campaign, in which his side were beaten in the round of 16.
He gets a decent pay hike apart from assurances from the AIFF general secretary Dr Shaji Prabhakaran that “best possible scenario” to Stimac to produce encouraging results.
Should those results ensure qualification to the third round of the 2026 World Cup qualifiers, then an automatic contract extension of another two years will get triggered.
Also Read: AIFF offers two-year contract extension to Igor Stimac
Gawli as India U-23 coach
“We have a clear roadmap where we want to see in 2026. We have seen success under Stimac and to improve we need to be stable. So we have agreed to continue as one team,” Prabhakaran said in a virtual media interaction on Thursday.
Former India defender Gawli will also double up as the U-23 head coach to ensure that the same coaching ideas are implemented on the junior players team that graduate to the senior team.
Stimac has been vocal about adequate preparation time before the World Cup qualifiers in November, kicking off the campaign with a trip to Kuwait followed by a home game in Bhubaneswar against Qatar.
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) October 5, 2023
He also wanted his preferred first-choice players with him in Hangzhou for the Asiad but ISL clubs’ refusal meant to release them on non-FIFA window dates meant he didn’t get even one training session before India slumped to a 1-5 defeat to hosts China in their opening group stage match on September 19.
The 1998 World Cup bronze medal-winning defender had demanded a two-week preparation camp before the November qualifiers and a four-week time ahead of the Asian Cup. But prolonged negotiations between the AIFF and its marketing partners FSDl, who own and organise the top-tier tournament, fetched a break of only a week in November and two weeks in December-January before India’s opening match against Australia in the Asian Cup.
Stimac said that he has received “very visible assurances” from the AIFF that things will be handled in a better way once the 2023-24 ISL ends in March, though didn’t divulge what were those promises.
“We can’t change many things until next ISL season. But have got a good promise that things will change before the next ISL season. Our chances become less with less time to prepare,” the 56-year-old said.
Sitting beside him, Prabhakaran was also in agreement, saying that the “end product” of Indian football is the national team’s performance. Hence the coach has “every right” to demand more time with his players and the AIFF will ensure that he doesn’t have much complains going forward.
Also Read: Emergence of new players in Asian Games a positive sign, says India coach Igor Stimac
“What couldn’t happen, we need to move on. We are committed to doing what is best for the national team,” he said.
Acknowledging that not much scope is left in the current season to squeeze in his preferred longish camps, which the team benefitted from before qualifying for their second suucessive Asian Cup appearance, Simac said his primary aim is to “survive” the two FIFA international match windows of November 2023 and March 2024.
“Then we will be in good position to aim for the second position in the group. Most FIFA windows during the ISL season is hurting us. We have to find a way in future to handle things better. We mustn’t loose days for preparation rather, we must work to make the days count,” Stimac said, while speaking about how to tackle Asian champions Qatar, Kuwait and the winner between Afghanistan and Mongolia in the World Cup qualifiers.
“My plans depend on the AIFF and results achieved on the pitch,” he clarified.