Stars in your eyes

  • by Staff Writer
  • Tuesday, 12th September 2023

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.

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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.

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"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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