The Indian football team have a new head coach and there’s more to him than meets the eye.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Wednesday officially unveiled Igor Stimac as Stephen Constantine’s successor after the Englishman chose not to renew his contract that expired in January following the Asian Cup 2019 campaign in the UAE.
Stimac has enjoyed a fine playing career that saw him feature in English football for six years while also being part of an excellent Croatia team.
Apart from a short stint as coach of his country’s national team, his managerial career has largely involved helping struggling sides. However, he did begin with a Croatian league title at Hajduk Split.
HE WAS LINKED TO LAMPARD’S JOB
A year ago, Derby County fans had just about had it with then manager Gary Rowett who – soon after the Rams’ playoff campaign ended in defeat – requested permission to approach Stoke City regrading their vacant managerial post.
The club’s support yearned for a passionate character to lead their side and Stimac fit the bill. The former Derby defender was a fan favourite and an integral to the side between 1995 and 1999. In 2009, he was voted into a fans’ greatest ever XI by readers of the Derby Evening Telegraph. He even has an exclusive lounge named after him at Pride Park.
In fact, the club’s official fan group even urged the hierarchy to appoint Stimac following his Facebook post addressing the links in which he said: “Maybe the time has come to go back home.”
Of course, it was Frank Lampard who was handed the reins instead and surely they can’t have any complaints.
HE HAD A HIT SINGLE IN CROATIA
As if the thrill of being a professional footballer in the Premier League and a full international wasn’t enough, Stimac transitioned into the music industry soon after retiring. He was a vocalist and guitarist for ‘The Bohems’ and had a hit single ‘Mary and Katie’.
That he was part of Croatia’s first golden generation that finished third at the 1998 World Cup in France may have aided the song’s popularity but it remained number one on the charts in the country for four months.
“I think the sales were really down to Croatia doing well in the tournament rather than my voice,” Stimac – who also opened two discotheques of his own – joked.
In 2000, Stimac plied his trade at West Ham but being an active player didn’t keep him from starting his own company around the same time. Although, the company went bankrupt five years later.
His family meanwhile is in the business of manufacturing olive oil and wine, so he briefly indulged in that as well.
Despite having a year left on his West Ham contract back in 2001, Stimac decided to return to his boyhood club Split. In doing so, he accepted just £50,000 from West Ham to terminate his deal and negotiated a pay cut of £750,000 to join the Croatian club.
The 51-year-old was also a candidate to take over as president of the Croatian Football Federation but lost the elections to Vlatko Markovic.
The Three Lions boss named a 27-man group ahead of this summer’s inaugural finals in Portugal, although he will need to cut the group down to 23 by May 27.
Unsurprisingly there are no uncapped players in Southgate’s selection, but there is a shock call-up for Redmond.
Overlooked since winning his one and only England cap in March 2017, the 25-year-old scooped the Player of the Year double at Saints’ end of year awards after a fine campaign.
England captain Harry Kane has been selected by Southgate despite an ankle ligament injury, while Harry Winks has also got the nod after groin surgery.
There is no place for Ruben Loftus-Cheek after sustaining a nasty-looking ankle injury playing in a friendly for Chelsea on Wednesday, while fellow midfielders Declan Rice and James Ward-Prowse are involved again.
Jesse Lingard and Joe Gomez return to the squad, while Luke Shaw and James Tarkowski are left out.
Southgate believes Redmond deserved his return to the England fold after the winger scored nine goals in the second half of the season.
Speaking at a press conference, the England manager said: “I think he finished the season really well. I think the new manager has had a positive effect: a lot of pace, playing the high press and has started to score more regularly.
“It is a really good opportunity for Nathan.”
Southgate also explained his reasons for including Kane and Winks, despite the Tottenham duo currently being sidelined by injury.
“For the likes of Harry Winks, he deserves to named in the initial squad. It is a case that he hasn’t played for a couple of months so we will have to see,” Southgate said.
“That’s (Kane’s fitness) one of the unknowns. He’s working to be fit for the (Champions League) final. We are keeping that door open. We are going to look post-Champions League final. There is the physical aspect and emotional aspect of that final that we have to look at.
“I don’t think we have had a time where we haven’t had a lot of pullouts but we have a really strong squad. We will know more by that date (May 27) but we can make changes after that date.”
Southgate was positive in how the impact of his players featuring in the Champions League and Europa League finals can have on his team in the future.
He said: “In the long-term for England, it’s brilliant. All of these experiences are what this team hasn’t had before.
“It’s been an incredible couple of weeks for English football and we are looking forward to continuing that.”
The exclusion of Manchester United left-back Shaw raised a few eyebrows.
But when asked if it was a tough choice, Southgate said: “No. Ben Chilwell and Danny Rose have been excellent for us so they are ahead in the pecking order. But it gives us a lot of good options.”
The England manager also added that Chelsea pair Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Callum Hudson-Odoi would have been selected if they were fit.
Chelsea striker Gonzalo Higuain has announced his retirement from international football with Argentina, citing family reasons.
The 31-year-old, who joined Chelsea in January on a loan deal from Juventus, scored 31 goals in 75 appearances for the Albiceleste, with his last match a 2-1 win over Nigeria in the World Cup last June.
Explaining his decision in an interview with Fox Sports, Higuain said: “My time with Argentina is over. Thinking things through in depth, my time is up.
“To the delight of many, now I will only look at it from the outside. I have spoken to (manager Lionel) Scaloni and told him my point of view.
“I’ve made the decision because I want to enjoy my family, I want to spend time with my daughter, and at the same time, I feel that I gave my country everything I could.”
Higuain, who has scored three goals in 10 appearances since joining Chelsea towards the end of January, added: “I’m fully focused on my commitment to Chelsea.
“The Premier League is amazing and I really want to enjoy it. It’s very competitive indeed.”
*Copy provided by Press Association Sport