Can't find next Sunil Chhetri until ISL changes foreign player rule: Igor Stimac

Igor Stimac AIFF

India coach Igor Stimac is not happy with the number of foreign players featuring in a match in Indian Super League and I-League, saying it was coming in the way of the country producing a future Sunil Chhetri. Stimac said the leagues should follow Asian Football Confederation's (AFC) policy of allowing a maximum of four foreign players in a match instead of the five permitted by them currently.

"My suggestion for top tier (league) in the country is to follow AFC rule of 3+1, that's the basic rule for number of foreign players. It's not strange that that most successful Asian countries are following that rule and that is why they are successful," Stimac said.

"That is why they have option for national team to have strikers, offensive midfielders and the centre-backs," he added.

Currently, ISL and I-League teams can field five foreign players in a match, while AFC Champions League competition rules state that "each participating club may register four foreign players but at least one must have the nationality of an AFC member association".

"We will never find a replacement for Chhetri if the situation is like this. We cannot take someone who has never played as a striker and put him in the national team. Where am I going to find a striker? Even in I-League, there are five foreign players.

"We don't have (Indian) strikers in I-League. Only Indian Arrows is putting (striker) Vikram (Pratap Singh) to play. We are in a big problem. We need to start changing the things in favour of national team."

The Croatian also said that it would be ideal to merge the two leagues.

The Indian team is out of reckoning for a 2022 World Cup berth but Stimac said they will have a chance to qualify for the 2026 edition.

"To wake up India in football, we need national team success. And there is a big chance in front of us, the 2026 World Cup. There will be 48 countries involved, which means there will be another 3-4-5 places for Asian countries to participate. We have four years to prepare ourselves and be in the top 8 in Asia," he said.

Meanwhile, FIFA on Thursday proposed postponing all the upcoming 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers, including India's home game against Qatar on March 26 due to the rising coronavirus threat. However, Stimac said he did not have any official confirmation.

"We are focused with proceedings with the camp as we have no official information on what is going to happen. Some games have been cancelled. We have the calendar till the end of the year, but it is not in our hands," he said.