Plot thickens over termination clause in Stimac’s contract, ex-legal head blames AIFF for ‘fiasco’

As the cry for the removal of Igor Stimac as the Indian men’s team’s head coach gets louder

New Delhi, April 4 (IANS) As the cry for the removal of Igor Stimac as the Indian men’s team’s head coach gets louder, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is believed to be in a dilemma over deciding the fate of the Croatian World Cupper coach.

Stimac is under fire after a string of poor performances in the Asian Games and the AFC Asian Cup, followed by the goalless draw against 158th-ranked Afghanistan in Round 2 of the FIFA World Cup qualifiers at Abha, Saudi Arabia, and the 1-2 drubbing in Guwahati in the return leg on March 26.

According to sources in the AIFF, its current contract with Stimac, which was signed on October 5, 2023 and runs till January 2026, is so tilted in favour of the coach that it would be difficult for the Federation to part ways with him without coughing out a huge amount of money.

“The removal of one particular clause, which was there in the previous contract, from the new agreement is the root cause of all problems,” claimed a source.

In the first contract that was signed between the AIFF and Stimac on May 16, 2019, Article 9.1 in the termination clause gave the AIFF the liberty to part company with the coach with a three-month notice.

“Article 9.1 gave an option to terminate the coach without cause by providing him with a three-month notice period. But unfortunately, this particular clause was removed while issuing the fresh contract to the coach,” the source said.

A further shock awaited the AIFF when it decided to seek legal opinion on this issue.

“As per my observation, due to such modification, the option to terminate the contract of the head coach under Article 9.1 of the agreement by giving a three-month notice stands invalid, and the only possible option to terminate the contract is as per Article 9.1 and Article 9.2 given in the extension letter.

“There is no option of mutual termination as well which is available in the agreement, but in accordance to Article 3 Annexure 2 of FIFA RSTP, 2023, the option of mutual termination is available.

“Further, in case of disputes, the jurisdiction is with FIFA, and the FIFA Players’ Status Committee in the cases has given the decision in favour of the coach for terminating the contract of a coach by a club/member association unilaterally without just cause, even after exercising the clause of termination available in the agreement.

“The Committee in most of the cases awarded the coach with the entire compensation due as per his current contract,” read the legal opinion on the subject.

A source in the AIFF claimed that the fresh agreement with the coach with a much higher salary was signed in complete defiance of the advisory issued by the Core Committee, which, after holding a meeting on September 23, 2023, left clear instructions to see to it that the Federation’s interest remains well-protected when the contract is signed.

The Core Committee said: “The CC members under the chairmanship of N.A. Haris proposed to then AIFF Secretary General Shaji Prabhakaran that Igor Stimac could be offered a two-year contract with a monthly salary of $30,000 from January 2024 onwards, but with certain clauses that:

* Restricts him from speaking to the Media without prior permission from AIFF

* ⁠Stimac refrains from making any adverse comments on AIFF and any of its stakeholders

* ⁠If accepted then the legal team to go through the details before putting pen to paper with a termination clause favourable to AIFF.”

But things took a different turn thereafter.

On October 3, 2023, then Principal Legal Advisor to the AIFF who drafted the contract, Nilanjan Bhattacharjee, wrote to then Secretary General Prabhakaran, saying: “Have kept the termination on behalf of Igor (Stimac) restricted. If he wants more favourable terms, let him suggest.”

The source in the AIFF said that none of the recommendations of the Core Committee was followed. While the exit clause was made more complicated and the three-month termination clause of 9.1 was removed, the coach’s salary was made $40,000 from February 2025 till January 2026, without prior approval.

A senior AIFF official said: “Our hands are completely tied now. The termination clauses in the current contract are so complicated that it is now almost impossible to terminate the coach even if India fail to make the third round of the World Cup qualifiers. We may have to keep him until his contracts end in January 2026.”

When contacted on Thursday, Bhattacharjee, who was ousted from his post last month, days after levelling allegations of financial irregularities against the Federation, told IANS that the Clauses are very clear as far as termination is concerned.

He also pointed out that if any dispute arises out of the contract, the subject matter shall be decided as a contractual dispute between parties under the Indian Contract Act, and FIFA has nothing to do with it.

“The clauses are very clear as far as termination is concerned. Article 9.1 stipulates a condition wherein if the AIFF and Stimac both want to part ways, they may do so with one month’s notice in which case only $30,000 needs to be paid.

“Article 9.2 stipulates conditions wherein if the AIFF unilaterally thinks it proper and believes that Stimac has failed to discharge his duties properly, it may terminate Stimac without any reason or compensation.

“I am unable to understand why (AIFF President) Kalyan Chaubey and (Acting General Secretary) M. Satyanarayan are arriving at this point that if Stimac is removed, the entire contract value will need to be paid as severance benefit.

“This is strictly an act of misleading the Indian football fraternity. Further, tomorrow if any dispute comes up, the subject matter shall be decided as a contractual dispute between parties under the Indian Contract Act since the same is a contract executed in India for obligations to be carried out in India.

“I am unable to understand why they are so reluctant to take a call on Stimac. The terms, even if provided to any layman, will be easily understood and it can be observed as to how attempts are being made to disparage Indian football.”

Bhattacharjee also said that the draft was shared with the Core Committee, Chaubey, and Satyanarayan, and it was signed by Prabhakaran only after their approval.

“If one wants to politicise issues wrongfully to garb and cover their own wider wrongdoings, one should at least not put the genuine interests of Indian football at stake,” he said.

Terming the ‘ignorance’ of Chaubey and Satyanarayan of the October 5, 2023 agreement as ‘wilful’, Bhattacharjee asked why no one pointed at the anomalies before.



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