Football
Didn’t come here to lick a**es: Stimac blasts clubs for refusing to release players

Didn’t come here to lick a**es: Stimac blasts clubs for refusing to release players

After only 12 out of 25 players turned up for India football camp, India coach Igor Stimac blasted the clubs for not supporting the team ahead of crucial national team fixtures.

Since becoming clubs from franchises, Indian Super League (ISL) sides have taken most of the credit for India Football Team’s success. From commentary of India football matches to promotion of events on their social media handles, they have done their bit apart from developing the players. But now, the same ISL clubs are at loggerheads with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and India Football Team coach Igor Stimac. The reason? Some of them have refused to send players to India camp for Asian Games 2023, Kings’ Cup and AFC Asian Cup 2024, reigniting the club vs country debate.

Following a massive social media campaign and commendable efforts from AIFF President Kalyan Chaubey managed to convince the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to send the football team to the Asian Games. However, when Igor Stimac called up U-23 players for camp, only 12 out of 28 players turned up. The camp was already postponed once after clubs refused to release players.

East Bengal, Kerala Blasters, Mumbai City, Jamshedpur FC, and Odisha FC did not send players. Even Punjab FC did not send any players to the camp.

A frustrated Igor Stimac blasted the clubs. The Croat said he didn’t come to India to lick a**es.

“I didn’t, pardon my language now, come to India to lick a**es. I came to India to help. If you want my help, I need to tell you the truth. You can face it, you can help me to overcome the problems. Or you can tell me we’re not going to change anything, please coach go home. I will go home happily and we’re going to stay friends,” Igor Stimac told Indian Express.

India Football Team Coach Igor Stimac blasts ISL clubs for refusing to release players for India Football Camp ahead of Asian Games 2023

Indian Football Club vs Country debate

India’s football calendar has always been an area of conflict between the federation, clubs and even the players. None has been happy with it. If a smaller window for the Indian Super League was a problem earlier, it is now going to hamper clubs’ preparation for the Indian Super League as well as AFC competitions.

But there is a dilemma. India National Team will be in action in King’s Cup, followed by Asian U-23 qualifiers, Asian Games 2023 and then Mardeka Cup, World Cup 2026 and Asian Cup qualifiers followed by Asian Cup 2024.

But clubs refusing to release players creates a bigger problem. The national team camp becomes a wasted opportunity. Whose fault is that? No one takes the blame. Igor Stimac fears that ahead of Asian Games 2023, a similar situation will arise.

“We have the best brains in the world in India. You’re telling me we cannot manage to adjust the calendar to make sure that the national team has enough time to work? Or are there some other interests? I don’t have a problem with saying that because that’s the truth. Whoever wants to prove me wrong, can come out publicly with me, debate and tell me what is the main problem?” Igor Stimac said.

As for the clubs who have refused to send players, they are only willing to release players as per the FIFA window and not before or after. It’s understandable as they help the players grow and want to protect the players. But at what cost? It’s not an Indian problem though. Flamengo refused to release Vinicius Jr for the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2017 after striking a deal with Real Madrid for the Brazilian’s transfer. As a result, there was no Vinicius Jr available for Brazil. There have been more instances of the same.

“As per FIFA window, they will be allowed to leave. We have been supporting the youngsters and will continue to do so,” one of the clubs which refused to release players told InsideSport.

India Football Team Coach Igor Stimac blasts ISL clubs for refusing to release players for India Football Camp ahead of Asian Games 2023

Why no middle ground: Igor Stimac

In Europe, almost all clubs work with the national federation to have players available for national camp and the team. In Asia, the biggest example is Iran. The federation works with all the clubs for national camps including age group camps. But in India, club vs country has always been a bone of contention.

“I’m worried because most of these countries found a way to provide the national team the time to work and prepare well. And we are still saying we cannot do it …” Stimac added.

Sources in ISL put the blame back on Igor Stimac, saying he did not rate Asian Games 2023 higher when the national competitions were being finalised.

Stimac has however rejected the claims, saying they are a “lie”.

“It is not the truth. How can one coach say that’s not important? That would be silly. What I said precisely was that I’m ready to sacrifice the FIFA window in September and October to get four weeks camp prior to the Asian Cup, and two weeks prior to the World Cup qualifiers in November. That’s what I said… At that time, we didn’t know that the Asian Games are coming in September. So that’s a lie,” Stimac added.

Indian Football Fixtures:

AFC U23 Asian Cup Qualifiers:

  • September 6: India vs Maldives (Time TBD, Dalian)
  • September 9: China PR vs India (Time TBD, Dalian)
  • September 12: UAE vs India (Time TBD, Dalian)

King’s Cup:

  • September 7: India vs TBD – Semi-final (16:00 or 19:00 IST, Chiang Mai)
  • September 10: India vs TBD – Third-place Play-off or Final (16:00 or 19:00 IST, Chiang Mai)

Asian Games 2023:

  • September 19: China vs India – Men’s Group A (17:00 IST, Hangzhou)
  • September 21: India vs Bangladesh – Men’s Group A (13:30 IST, Xiaoshan)
  • September 24: Myanmar vs India – Men’s Group A (17:00 IST, Xiaoshan)

Merdeka Cup:

  • Malaysia vs India (18:30 IST, October 13, 2023)
  • Third-place play-off (14:00 IST, October 17, 2023)

FIFA World Cup 2026 Qualifiers First Leg

  • Kuwait vs India – 16.11.23
  • India vs Qatar- 21.11.23
  • Afghanistan/ Mongolia vs India – 21.03.24
  • India vs Afghanistan/ Mongolia- 26.03.24
  • India vs Kuwait- 06.06. 24
  • Qatar vs India- 11.06.24

AFC Asian Cup 2023:

  • January 13, 2024 – Australia vs India – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium
  • January 18, 2024 – India vs Uzbekistan – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium
  • January 23, 2024 – India vs Syria – Al Bayt Stadium
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