There has been a lot of curiosity about Igor Stimac and his football philosophy. Since the day his name was announced by AIFF, people wanted to know how he, with his system and tactics will bring out Indian Football from its misery.
Well, the wait is now finally over as Stimac in a webinar, conducted jointly by All India Football Federation and Sports Authority of India explained everything about his philosophy, tactics and system and the process to blend all these to ultimately produce the demanded output.
Let’s have a look into it
- Philosophy and Style : To manage a national team like India, a manager has to bring all the unfavourable conditions to his favour, in short, he has to be reactive. Stimac is well known to that philosophy, though he is not a believer of pragmatism. He understands that it’s time, India need to keep the ball more, but trying to play a technical game with player who are not so familar to the ball will be like hitting your own foot with an axe. Stimac knows that and that’s why he is trying to implement a blend – A Counterattacking style, with a bit of more possession compared to the time under Constantine.
2 Player Requirements
As Stimac said, a system needs to be build by methods and procedures and the very first of them is knowing the individual requirements of players. Before diving into tactics and techniques, Stimac ran tests on the pool of players he initially selected, and came to the conclusion that Indian players thrive in their pace, agility and quickness but struggle in muscle mass, height and strength. Also due to lack of longer season they face problems in endurance too.
After acquiring their physical and physiological knowledge, Stimac finally stepped into the technical and tactical drills and discussions, where he found though Indian players have a good and quick learning ability and game sense, there is a huge lack of technical prowess in them.
All these information made him draw an early conclusion that he has to construct a system based on the strengths and weaknesses of his players.
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The knowledge of individual players requirements was necessary to construct a well balanced system. Stimac, with all the data he possessed, clearly knew the only way to overcome the physical shortcomings and poor technical ability is to keep tight lines and small distances between his players at every area of the pitch.
For that he choose the “4-2-3-1” formation, a balanced and flexible formation which will suit the strength and weaknesses of the Indian players.
According to him, the reason for choosing this formation is various. Like, 4-2-3-1 covers space on the pitch effectively as well can be shifted to any other formation within the game without suffering the drawbacks of other systems. Thus, allowing a big upper hand.
- Requirements of the system
As every player has their physical demand, systems have demands of their own.
Stimac made very clear what he and his systems demands from each and every position and individual.
Goalkeeper : Needs to be reactive and communicative. Must have a good positional sense to handle crosses. He needs to have a good passing range and should be a great shot stopper.
Centre Back : Being one of the most important positions of Stimac’s system, the requirements of this position is pretty big. They need to be a natural leader, dictate games from the back, must be dynamic enough to press weaker oppositions high up the pitch. They need to block any and every type of crosses by their positional excellence and also step out of their lines sometimes to cover a teammate making mistake.
Fullbacks: Clearly, by his statements, fullbacks are the most important players of his system and the demands from them are huge too. They will get all the freedom they want to push high, but at the same time they need to win the duels with their counterparts and stop crosses from the flanks.
Central Midfielder: Though central midfield has the biggest variety of traits, Stimac is clear in his choice of double pivot, a holding midfielder and a box to box midfielder. A pair that needs to show cohesion and technicality at the centre of the park as well as cover each other’s backs. He mentioned that Rowlin Borges, with his aerial ability, passing range, tackling and stamina along with the vision and game reading of Anirudh Thapa make a perfect central midfield pair.
Offensive Three : If not the fullbacks, the most important players in his system is the attacking midfielder and the two wingers, who according to his demands, needs to produce an interplay to open up spaces for the forelying striker. For that, the wingers can move inside between the lines too. All three have to be able in shooting and crossing and must be good in 1v1 situations. Between all these, the wingers must not forget to track opposition fullbacks down in their own half which can otherwise create a 2v1 situation for their own fullback.
Striker: Unlike other positions, Stimac has a clarity of thought for this position. Anyone between a tall, physical striker focused on hold up play or a short, quick player who moves between the lines or pockets of space will do his job. Provided that they are great in shooting and are lethal finishers.
- Tactics :
The formation 4-2-3-1 was chosen by Stimac on the first place was to utilise the pace of the Indian players, particularly in the flanks.
The focus of Stimac lies in making transitions with off the ball movement. According to his statement, a player has only two minutes on the ball out of whole ninety minutes.So, how a game is effected depends on the off the ball movements of each players. The off the ball movements of offensive players is the key for his offensive play.
Their positional interchange and perplex movements creates space for strikers and fullbacks to move into.
In game formation changes are also vital part of his system.It can be a shift to a midfield diamond forming a more offensive 4-4-2 against weaker opponents, a more compact 4-5-1 against teams like Qatar or a technical 4-3-3 to enjoy possession against teams at per.Stimac believes in the variety and variability that this 4-2-3-1 formation can provide.
The continous movement of the players and ball will provide the required attacking output and also close down the gaps, according to Stimac.
He has divided his players in two halfs, 6 players who will always defend any type of counter attack and 4 frontline players who will press the opposition, which if effective can quickly transit the formation from a defensive to offensive one.If the top most forward can chase and close down opposition center backs, India can get a numerical advantage in every other position on the pitch.
Since 4-2-3-1 creates a lot of midfield overloads and is a narrow formation, there is a chance of wings remaining unguarded. That’s why the wingers have to track back opposition fullbacks to prevent a 2v2 situation with the Indian defenders and the opposition winger and fullbacks, which can make India vulnerable inside the box.
Implementing philosophies and building system in a national team is a tough task to ask for. The World saw in 2010 and 2014 how club football systems continuing in the national setup has brought fruitful results. Availability of players for less time in the national camp makes it difficult for managers to set them in their vision. Despite of a lot of if’s and but’s, Stimac knows what he is doing and his requirements. Just he needs some time, backing and trust. Life is not always black and white, it has some grey linings too and currently Stimac is someone who resides in that grey lining, with a lot still in his bag to reveal.