Anatomy of a sacking: Igor Stimac could play legal hard-ball with AIFF

Igor Stimac with the Indian National Team (Image: AIFF)

It was a day of intense drama in Indian football. In fact, the drama began 48 hours earlier when Indian football’s top management met to discuss the future of Igor Stimac. The consensus was that the coach had promised he would resign if the team did not make the third round of Asian World Cup qualifying. So, he should take responsibility and go. The All-India Football Federation (AIFF) wanted to do it amicably, and not get involved in a bitter and public slanging match.

Having said that, Stimac decided he would not resign. In fact, the secretary general, M Satyanarayan, was asked to speak to Stimac and figure out what the coach was thinking. Unofficially, a call did happen. The coach said he was willing to take responsibility and resign, and that too without any compensation, if the AIFF top brass quit with him. His specific target was the president, Kalyan Chaubey. His point was clear – a number of promises had been made, which were then not kept. So, why should he alone take the blame for India’s failure to make it to the third round? When the AIFF realised the coach was digging in his heels, they decided it was time to take a call.

Two things strengthened the AIFF’s hand. One, the media was now firmly aligned against Stimac. Two, the coach had also lost in the court of public opinion. Exactly a year ago, Stimac had both public opinion and fans in his corner. He also had media backing. Now, with India having failed to make it to the third round, fans were no longer with the head coach. The media too had turned completely against him. Once they realised this, the AIFF top brass met again on June 16. This time round, they were joined by members of the Technical Committee. The committee was unanimous that it was time to take the call.

Three things had to be weighed. One, there was no termination clause in the contract. Failing to honour the terms of the contract meant that the AIFF could be taken to court and end up having to pay two years of Stimac’s salary. Three, if the matter went to court, it could be a nasty and prolonged legal tussle. The AIFF also consulted India’s legal luminaries, and decided that whatever be the case, it was time to take a drastic call.

The coach did not know about this. He was preparing a report which he was to send to the AIFF top brass. But from what we know, he was also consulting his lawyers so as to be prepared for a legal stand-off.

Image: AIFF

And then, June 17. Around midday, it was decided that the notice would be sent out that very evening. RevSportz broke the news at 5pm, saying you could expect a statement from the AIFF at around 7pm. No one knew what it was, and what the details were. But that a bombshell was coming was quite evident. At 7pm, RevSportz once again broke the news that Stimac had been sacked with immediate effect.

Stimac, at that point in time, didn’t have an idea. When sources close to him were contacted, they had no clue what had just taken place in India. Once then was Stimac told that an email had been sent to him. The coach took a few minutes to recalibrate, and then the matter was handed over to his lawyers.

To put it very bluntly, we have not seen the end of this matter. Stimac is mulling his options and will surely take the AIFF to court. Whether it is the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) or some other, we have to wait and see.

On the part of the AIFF, they issued a press release around 7:30pm. A short, cryptic note announcing the termination. But from what we’re hearing, Stimac’s lawyers are saying the termination letter is invalid. As long as the coach doesn’t accept it, it has no locus standi.

The battle lines have been drawn, and Indian football will be in the news in the coming days, for all the wrong reasons. The third-round dream has vanished, and now, the head coach versus the AIFF is the new battle – the one none of us wanted to see. Side by side, the AIFF must also begin the hunt for a new coach. For the time being, Mahesh Gawli is expected to look after the national team.

Chances are that a foreigner with ISL coaching experience will be picked by the AIFF for the national team. For the moment, the story is a developing one. Neither side has spoken. Stimac, however, could well do a press conference a few days from now. The next few days promise many twists and turns. Needless to say, it was a RevSportz news break. Watch this space for more and follow @RevSportzGlobal for all the updates on the Stimac termination.