New Delhi: Indian football team’s new coach Igor Stimac on Friday (May 24) made it clear that all players have to fight for their spots in the national side including star striker Sunil Chhetri.

In his first press conference after taking over as the national coach, 51-year-old Stimac said in New Delhi that Chhetri is “very valuable” for the team but added that past laurels will not count when picking him.

"We speak every day. I speak with all our players every day. That's my approach. I need to do that. I need to get information from them. Of course, Sunil (Chhetri) is very valuable to our team. He is a role model to these young players who are knocking on the door. He has played so many games. He is so experienced, scored so many goals, but as well as others he needs to fight for a place in the team. We all start from zero. Football is like that. You don't get for the past. You get paid for today's job. As successful you are today, tomorrow you get your chance once again,” the Croat said.

Stimac, who was part of the Croatia team that finished third in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, said Chhetri and other seniors need to be role models for the Indian youngsters in a positive way.

"I expect not only from Sunil, from Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu), from (Sandesh) Jhingan to be a role model to young players in a positive way and not in a negative way because they are the ones who are looked for. Young players always look at what Sunil is doing, what Jhingan is doing. So I'm quite happy with their behaviour until now and I strongly believe that we will work together for as much as he (Sunil) did before," he added.

Two leagues conflict

Stimac was recently appointed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for a two-year term. He replaced Stephen Constantine. His first assignment is the King’s Cup next month in Thailand. The players are already training under the watchful eyes of the coach in Delhi and the 37-man team will be pruned to 23 for King’s Cup.

"In the next few days I have to decide on 25-26 players from this squad who will be the most valuable for this competition (King's Cup) and after that, the squad will be cut to 23," Stimac said.

When his views were sought on the existence of two football leagues in the country, Stimac said any sort of conflict will not help the team.

“We are allowed to dream. But hard work needs to be put along with that dream. There are certain problems between leagues, organisation. Everything can be sorted if we communicate. I-League has something that ISL can’t have – tradition. You can’t buy tradition. The Indian Super League is more competitive stuff. I-League is where the new young players are. It’s good for me. I am not going to say how it will work. But my opinion will be there. Any conflict is not helping,” he opined.

Indian Super League (ISL) has been elevated to the status of the top-tier league in the country over I-League. The I-League clubs are uncertain about their future after there were talks of a merger of the two leagues. The I-League clubs had pulled out of Super Cup in April over their tussle with the AIFF.

'India sleeping giant'

When asked about his thoughts on Indian football, Stimac called the nation a "sleeping giant".

"Indian football is a sleeping giant and I see many good opportunities here with the youth coming up. The youngsters in the setup here are knocking on the doors of the senior national team and I am happy with the technical quality of the players. We can do great things and I am expecting a good future with the senior national team and the U-23 team," he said.

About India's World Cup qualification aspirations, the coach said it is the main objective of every nation.

"The main objective of any nation is to qualify for the FIFA World Cup and no one has stopped us from dreaming about qualifying. As strong is our dream, the stronger the belief becomes. If we are to qualify then hard work becomes important along with the willingness to learn every day, more professionalism and more communication.

"My job here won’t just be to improve the senior team and the U-23 team but holistically improve football in the nation. The jobs of meeting the local clubs and helping them is something that I am ready to do," he said.