A ‘football intellectual’ who led Brazil to the Rio Olympics gold medal. A former Serbian playmaker, nicknamed pigeon, considered Arsenal’s first big foreign signing. The son of a Swedish coach who, some say, designed the national team’s playing philosophy. A former American captain credited with turning around Philippines’ fortunes and an Australian set-piece expert who orchestrated the team’s 2015 Asian Cup triumph.
Spain’s Alberto Roca, the former Bengaluru FC coach, is considered as the frontrunner to become the next India coach, in a race that also has some of world football’s most accomplished names, including Sam Allardyce, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Raymond Domenech. However, when the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) technical committee sifts through the 42 applications, they’ll come across some interesting profiles.
The AIFF has been hunting for a new coach for the national team after Stephen Constantine chose not to seek a contract extension following India’s first-round exit from the Asian Cup in January. The deadline to apply ended last month, with the federation claiming they’ve received more than 250 applications. That number was pruned down to 42 earlier this month and on Thursday, the technical committee is likely to narrow down their search to roughly 10 names before starting the interview process.
Among those in the fray is Rogerio Micale, the strong disciplinarian who coached the gold medal-winning Brazilian side at the Rio Olympics. Micale was a rather unknown name in the coaching world but his stock skyrocketed after leading Neymar & Co. to a top-of-the-podium finish at the Games. He is known to be a strong disciplinarian who professes an attacking style. His teams traditionally dominate possession and play with a high defensive line.
Another contender with a strong national team pedigree is former USA captain Thomas Dooley. German by birth, Dooley – whose father is American – moved to USA ahead of the 1994 World Cup and went on to represent them in two editions. He went on the coach the US national team, but is known more for his work with the Philippines where he was Eriksson’s predecessor. During Dooley’s four-year term, from 2014 to 2018, the Azkals made rapid strides and are one among the fast-improving in Asia, although their ranking of 124 might not be a fair reflection of it.
Two other coaches with vast Asian experience are Iran’s Markar Aghajanyan, one of Carlos Queiroz’s assistants for the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, and Australian Aurelio Vidmar, who has coached in Thailand and been one of the key members of Socceroos’ backroom staff in their recent World and Asian Cup campaigns.
Milovan Rajevac, who was sacked as Thailand coach after losing 4-1 to India at the Asian Cup, is also among the aspirants. He, however, isn’t the only Serbian in the list. Former Serbia, Yemen Iraq, and China coach Vladimir Petrovic also features in AIFF’s long list. Petrovic, 63, was famous in his playing days for being Arsenal’s first major foreign recruit.
He joined the former Premier League champions in 1983 and played alongside the likes of Lee Chapman, but his stint was by and large regarded as a failure. As a manager, too, he hasn’t had much success. Some who have applied are proper journeymen. Take Switzerland’s Raoul Savoy, for instance. Savoy, 45, has worked in Cameroon, Morocco, Algeria, Ethiopia, Swaziland, The Gambia and the Central African Republic. While he comes across as an Africa expert, 62-year-old Gianni de Biasi has made a career from coaching mid-tier clubs in Italy and Spain. In the last decade, De Biasi has coached the likes of Levante, Torino, Udinese, and Alaves. He was Albania’s coach from 2011 to 2017.
Sweden’s Hakan Ericson, whose father Georg is one of the legends of the Scandinavian nation, is in contention as well along with Benito Floro. The 66-year-old Spaniard was Real Madrid’s coach in the early 1990s and led them to Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup titles. He also managed a second place in the league, losing the top spot to Barcelona on the last day of the 1992-1993 season. In 2005, he briefly replaced Arrigo Sacchi as sporting director at the Santiago Bernabéu.
The AIFF’s challenge will be to find a candidate within their budget, which is a maximum of $25,000 per month. Most of the coaches are way above their budget. For instance, Spain’s Luis Alcaraz – one of the candidates – received more money as compensation after being sacked as Algeria’s coach (345,000 euros) than he stands to receive as India coach (roughly 270,000 euros annually).
The salary of a football coach is jointly paid by the AIFF and the government. “We are not looking for a high-profile name. We want someone who understands India and the competition in Asia. That will be our main criteria while preparing the shortlist,” an AIFF official said.