NEW DELHI: The All India Football Federation, on Thursday, October 5, 2023, after consultation with the AIFF Executive Committee, announced the extension of Men’s Senior National Team head coach Igor Stimac’s contract by two years, till June 2026.
In addition, the Federation also extended the contract of assistant coach Mahesh Gawali and appointed him head coach of the U-23 Men’s National Team.
Speaking at a virtually held media interaction, Secretary General Dr Shaji Prabhakran said that the extensions were in line with Vision 2047 and the AIFF’s commitment towards ensuring the growth of the game.
“Over the last 12 months, we have seen many positive results with the Men’s National Team, as well as in the development teams. After discussions with the Executive Committee, we decided that to ensure long-term growth and consistent development, we must tie down the staff to long-term contracts and we were happy to do so with Mr Stimac and also with our own Indian football legend, Mahesh Gawali.
“In addition to the two-year extension, we have also agreed that if the team qualifies for the third round of qualifiers for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, then we will extend the contracts for a further two years.”
Stimac thanked the Federation for the trust shown in him and his coaching staff and hoped that this would ensure that the process of growth continued for the National Team.
“I deeply appreciate the trust shown in me as well as the staff. It’s also a validation of the trust they have in the process. We have been in discussions for a few days now, with everyone putting all their cards on the table.
“I think the discussions were important to also identify potential problems that may crop up in the future and how we could tackle them and would approach them,” he said.
In addition to a contract extension, the Federation has also appointed Mahesh Gawali as the head coach of the U-23 team. Gawali and Stimac both highlighted that this was done to ensure a clear development mechanism for the Senior Team and ensure that there would be a smooth transition.
“I know it’s a huge responsibility for me,” Gawali said. “We have a huge depth of talent in the country, and it is necessary to nurture and cultivate it well. I am honoured to have gotten this role. It’s important to recognise Clifford Miranda’s role as well. He did a great job with the team when he was in charge and we could see the result of the work in the team at the Asian Games.”
Stimac highlighted the need for continuity in the coaching staff for a long-term development project. “I think it is also necessary to highlight that we have not negotiated our contracts with any increase in salaries,” Stimac said. “For me, it was important to ensure that the Federation tied down Mahesh to a longer contract because I can see his passion, his knowledge of the game and how important he is to the team. He has all the qualities to be a great head coach and I am happy that the Federation has given him more responsibility.”
In the media interaction, Stimac also highlighted the importance of the FIFA window, not just to ensure adequate preparation for the AFC Asian Cup but also for the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers.
“The National Team is the most important and unifying unit for the country’s football,” Stimac said. “No club or league can garner that kind of support and bring together so many different groups of fans together. It is therefore very necessary to ensure that the National Team gets good preparation, and we must not lose the race by missing that time. I’m not counting the days ahead of us, but ensuring that the days ahead count. I’m sure various stakeholders recognise this too, and it has been part of our discussions with the Federation on how to negotiate the FIFA windows.” Adding to the same, Dr Prabhakran said that the Federation, the coaching staff and stakeholders were working as ‘one team’ to ensure better results. “We know that in the past there have been conflicts and problems with scheduling camps and giving adequate preparation time. But now we are all on the same page, and it is just a matter of putting together better plans for the future. We will ensure that happens for the betterment of Indian Football.”