Newly-appointed Indian football team coach Igor Stimac Friday said all payers, including the talismanic Sunil Chhetri, are equal and will have to fight for their place. Stimac, who was part of Croatia’s squad that finished third in the 1998 World Cup in France, is conducting a training camp for the national team probables in preparation for the King’s Cup in Thailand. “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,” Stimac said in his first press conference. “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, and has 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 anything for the past. You get paid for today’s job. As successful you are today, tomorrow you get your chance once again.” With less than two weeks to go for Stimac’s first assignment, he said that he was concerned about the defence, and the lack of options, particularly at centre-back. “Over the next few months, my job will be to find more competitors for the centre-back position, which we are short on right now,” Stimac said. The 37-man preliminary squad, which is undergoing a camp at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, will be pruned to 23, by the time the team leaves for Thailand on June 1.

“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 was quizzed on the level of research he had done on India before accepting the job. “I watched almost every ISL game, I have been informed about the young talents from the Indian Arrows. “I recognised through my research about some players who didn’t make it into Mr. (Stephen) Constantine’s squad, for whatever reason. But, I’m here to give them the chance to prove themselves and show everyone how good they are,” Stimac said.

Stimac said that he has so far focused on evaluating the fitness of the players. “I’m happy with the condition of most of the players, and now I will decide on the intensity of training over the next few days, which will be important to see who can cope up with the demands. “The next few days we will be working on technical aspects and organisation on the pitch.” The 51-year-old Stimac said he was optimistic of doing “great things” for Indian football.

“As I have been involved in developing players in Croatia, I see this as a great chance to help the AIFF in organising and developing young talents who are coming up. “There are many young players knocking on the door of the senior team and I see a great chance to keep improving the team and get results. I am happy with the quality I have seen and together, we can do great things.”

He was also impressed with the attitude of the players in the camp. “I expect not only from Sunil (but) from Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu), from (Sandesh) Jhingan as well 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 up to. “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 as much as he (Sunil) did before,” said Stimac.