Former Hammer Igor Stimac has taken a novel approach to management - by introducing an astrologer to his backroom team.The ex-Croatian international, who represented West Ham on 43 occasions between 1999 and 2001 has caused something of a stir in India where he has been the national head coach since 2019.
And that's all because an undercover investigation by The Indian Express has revealed how Stimac, 56, has been taking advice from a Delhi-based astrologer before selecting recent starting XIs.
It is claimed that back in June 2022, Stimac contacted astrologer Bhupesh Sharma - to whom he had been previously introduced by an official from the All India Football Federation (AIFF) - asking for his thoughts on a planned starting XI for a vital forthcoming clash with Afghanistan.
And having received Sharma's comments - which included notes such as "not recommended for the day" and "can do very well but needs to avoid over confidence", Stimac - who recently stated that he "didn’t come to India to lick arses, and wasn’t afraid of telling the truth" - suddenly dropped two "established" names from his planned starting line-up. India won the match 2-1.
The incident was not an isolated one; the newspaper's investigations uncovered in excess of 100 messages between the two parties during a period in which India played four matches and before each of which, Stimac sought Sharma's advice. After losing the first 2-0 to Jordan, India went on to beat Cambodia (2-0), Afghanistan and Hong Kong (4-0).
Explaining why he decided to take the advice of Sharma, Stimac - who also enjoyed spells with Hajduk Split, Cadiz and Derby County during his playing career - claims others convinced him to take an astrological approach.
"Bhupesh was recommended to me and I was convinced [by others] that I have to check upon his possible effects in sports," he said. "It was no more than that. I requested another foreign assistant coach which was never even considered and was shocked to find out the size of Bhupesh’s contract."
Stimac's - and possibly Sharma's - influence has seen the Indian team break into the world's top 100, with the latest Fifa rankings (July 2023) listing the world's second-most populous nation (1.4 billion people) into 99th spot, a rise of four places, immediately behind Belarus (98th), the Kyrgyz Republic (97th) and Palestine (96th).
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