Indian National Team will have to start at the youth level

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Indian football will be better served by a bottom-up approach when it comes to changing the style of play for the Blue Tigers…
Igor Stimac’s tenure as the head coach of the Indian Men’s National Team has been a brief one so far with the Croatian now undertaking his second major assignment – Intercontinental Cup in Ahmedabad.

The Croatian has tried to implement many changes since taking over the role vacated by Stephen Constantine’s departure with his insistence on blooding in youth being one of the major highlights. Another big focus of Stimac has been his attempt to change the playing style of the team to a more possession-based one.

“My role as head coach is to awaken the thoughts of Indian people about football and we can do that only if we play nice football and win their hearts,” Stimac had stated before the start of the Intercontinental Cup.

“We know that some results will suffer in the beginning but the positiveness that we are creating around this team is giving us a lot of optimism and especially the young players are giving us hope for better future of Indian football.

“We are in a position now where we are trying to change our style of play. It is very difficult. It is a completely different structure and approach. They are not used to that.”

The results, especially in the ongoing Intercontinental Cup, have been nothing to write home about for India bar the Syria draw.

Two heavy defeats against Tajikistan and DPR Korea respectively have now left India at the bottom in the Intercontinental Cup with the side conceding ten goals in the three games so far.

While Stimac’s pursuit towards improving the playing style is a noble one, the Croatian will always be in a race against time to get the desired results and changes before the start of the all-important 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in September.

Changing the playing style of the national team on such short notice is always going to be a difficult challenge due to the short amount of time that Stimac will get to spend with his players over the course of the next few weeks. He doesn’t have the luxury of the club coaches.

If any long-lasting change in the playing style has to come for India, it has to start with the teams at the youth level. A bottom-up approach is the way to go in this regard rather than taking a top-down approach that starts with the senior national team.

Technical skills and gameplay can be most enhanced in the formative years of the players rather than when they are already finished products. A common playing style can be implemented across the U15, U17, U19, U21 and U23 with all coaches at the youth and senior level on the same page to achieve better results in the long run.

It is a strategy implemented by nearly all top football nations around the world and it is one India must seriously consider themselves. India have to ensure that the National Teams across all age groups follow a common coaching and training manual.

To expect a big change in the senior national team’s playing style in a short span of time will be foolish and India need to tweak their approach a bit if the desired results are to be achieved in the future. You need a bit of grit as well in games apart from style and passing style. It was evident in the Intercontinental Cup where the grit was missing in the first two games.

It is not an overnight process and requires careful planning and precise implementation.