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'The least we can give the new coach is a fitter team'

AIFF officially announced the appointment of Igor Stimac as head coach of the Indian national men's football team, on Wednesday. Ahead of his hiring, ESPN had spoken to the national team's talisman Sunil Chhetri on the prospect of Stimac taking over, the legacy of Stephen Constantine, and what the new coach can expect from the players. 

Excerpts from the interview:

On how hard it would be for Stimac to make an immediate impact

I think the first tournament will be a little difficult for him [Stimac], because the way I see it, the first camp will be announced on the 18th or 20th. If it was a running season, and he got in with 10 days before a tournament, it would still be fine. But it's not a running season... all the players are on rest.

I've already texted all the boys on the group, and told them to make sure they are all working hard and they maintain their fitness. The least we can give to the new coach is a fitter team. He can readily get into the tactical aspect of the game, but if he has to bring all the boys and work on their fitness for a week or 10 days, then it's gone.

On the legacy of [ex-coach] Stephen Constantine and how it will help Stimac

Mr. Constantine left a good batch. When Stephen came, he had nobody. Probably the only seniors were me, Eugene [Eugenson Lyngdoh], [Subrata] Pal, and Anas [Edathodika] to an extent, but he had never played for India before.

All the others were young, and they've all done well over the last five years. Especially, Gurpreet [Singh Sandhu], Sandesh [Jhingan], Jeje [Lalpekhlua], and Udanta [Singh].

So in that context, yes, he [Stimac] is going to get boys that have got their rhythm, but then it's a new start, and that comes with its own difficulties. His style of play, his philosophy is something he has to incorporate in us, and that takes time. 

The only good thing about this team is, with us Indians; we don't shy away from working hard. So, that's not a department where he's going to face problems.


Also seeStephen Constantine, the inscrutable and infuriating tactician who has never got his due


On the one key attribute of the Indian team that will help Stimac

I have played in two different countries [United States and Portugal], I have played with lots of foreigners, and I know generally their mentality.

In India, you'll get a lot of [former India midfielder] Thoi Singhs, that they don't even have to know what you want. They will work for you, simple.

I always give the example of Thoi Singh, because he is the top guy that I have played with. You tell him what to do, and he will do it like a mad dog. Even if he doesn't get what he wants, or agree with what you want, he will trust you and do it blindly.

You'll get a lot of players like that in India. We'll back the coach up and do whatever they want. We won't say, 'we won't do this'.

On Constantine's retirement, differences, and putting coach above all else

His retirement was very abrupt, because he did it right after the game. We were all mourning the fact that we couldn't qualify, and then he spoke. I understand he must have thought about it. I think [during] his time in India, he did really well. He is someone who was hardworking. 

There were few times when he and I didn't agree with some of the philosophies, but I did understand that as captain of the team, I had to go with whatever he says and thinks. Our chances of doing well are more when the thoughts of the coach and the whole team are in accord, and this is something I understood long back in my career.

You might not like what the coach says, you might not agree with his plan, but the chances of your doing well are more when the whole team is with the coach.

He was hardworking, took a lot of risks, and he was very brave in bringing in so many youngsters. He gave chances to so many players, and that gave him a bigger pool to choose from. If you look back at his five years, he did really well.

Wherever he is, or wherever he is going to next, I just wish him all the luck.

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