Former England manager Sam Allardyce is among the high-profile names who have reportedly applied to the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for the position of the head coach of the Indian national team.
Over 250 applicants -- including former Bengaluru FC (BFC) coach Albert Roca and NorthEast United FC (NEUFC) coach Eelco Schattorie -- are understood to be keen on replacing Englishman Stephen Constantine, who quit after India's first-round exit at the AFC Asian Cup in January. The AIFF have confirmed to ESPN that the new coach will be named by May 15.
ESPN understands the unprecedented number of applicants is being looked at as a sign of increasing recognition for Indian football, especially after their impressive 4-1 win over Thailand that made rumoured applicant Sven-Goran Eriksson sit up and take notice. However, the federation's final call would include factors like cost, the applicant's familiarity with Asian football, as well as their ability to contribute to grassroots development with the aid of a suitable technical director, a post currently occupied by former India international Savio Medeira.
Here are five big contenders who could make the shortlist of 10 names that will be forwarded to the AIFF's technical committee for the final selection.
Sam Allardyce (England) | Age: 64
Allardyce left Everton in May 2018 after a dissatisfactory season, but has experience of having coached teams like Newcastle United, Crystal Palace and West Ham United, besides a long stint with Bolton Wanderers.
His big break came with the England national team, following the Euro 2016 campaign, and he began with a win against Slovakia in a World Cup qualifier in his first game in charge. He had to step down soon after, after a newspaper's undercover reporting showed him allegedly offering advice on how to work around FA rules on player third-party ownership.
Pros: Allardyce could build on Constantine's tenets of fitness, defensive solidity and the fondness for long-ball tactics. An extensive Premier League experience could mean his players would be well placed to take on the best teams in Asia on a physical and tactical level.
Cons: His absence of any Asian experience could count against him.
Albert Roca (Spain) | Age: 56
Roca needs little introduction, having taken BFC to the AFC Cup final in 2016 in his first few months in charge, before bringing the club a Federation Cup and a Super Cup title, in addition to finishing runner-up in the club's first ISL season in 2018. Roca has previous experience as an assistant to Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona, and also worked in the support staff of both Galatasaray and the Saudi Arabian national team.
Pros: The biggest plus with Roca would be his familiarity with Indian football. A majority of the national team members -- Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sandesh Jhingan, Udanta Singh and Subhasish Bose, to name a few -- have played under him and hence would understand his philosophy perfectly. BFC won 13 of their 18 league games in 2017-18 under Roca, and stood out for their attacking football.
Cons: Roca's only significant campaign as head coach of a national team was with El Salvador at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2015, where his team narrowly missed out on advancing from the group stages.
Raymond Domenech (France) | Age: 67
Domenech took France to two World Cups, in 2006 and 2010. The 2006 campaign was lit up by Zinedine Zidane's virtuoso performance that took them to the final, which they lost to Italy after Zidane's infamous head-butt and subsequent red card. The 2010 campaign was a disaster, as France exited in the group stages after Domenech's fallout with the France squad.
Pros: Domenech's longevity in the France system is proof of his qualities as coach. The 2006 World Cup campaign was part of six years with the senior team, after having worked with the youth teams in France before.
Cons: While Domenech's record at the 2006 World Cup speaks for itself, his inability to take France out of the group stages at either Euro 2008 or the World Cup in South Africa two years on would suggest much of his successes have been reliant on individual performances. He also had a high-profile fallout with Nicolas Anelka ahead of the 2010 World Cup, and his quirky belief in astrology made him omit Robert Pires, a Scorpio, from his squad. He has also never coached in Asia before.
Gianni De Biasi (Italy) | Age: 62
Italian-born De Biasi, who also holds an Albanian citizenship, took Albania to their first major tournament by helping them qualify for the European Championships in 2016. He has managed several clubs in Italy and Spain as well, including Udinese, Brescia, Levante and Alaves.
Pros: De Biasi's Albania showed plenty of grit during Euro 2016, where they were pitted in a group alongside hosts France, Switzerland and Romania. They finished third in their group, though not good enough to qualify for the knockouts. As coach, De Biasi blooded a number of younger players into the Albanian team, and working with lesser-experienced players could be a pivotal part of anybody replacing Constantine.
Cons: The lack of Asian experience could be held against him.
Eelco Schattorie (Netherlands) | Age: 47
Schattorie recently guided NEUFC to their first ISL playoffs, and stretched eventual champions BFC to the limit in a two-legged semi-final, drawing praise even from the opposition.
Before his recent ISL stint, Schattorie also managed United Sports Club and East Bengal in Kolkata. He knows Asian football as well as any of the other applicants, thanks to stints with clubs in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman. One of the youngest UEFA Pro License holders at 28, Schattorie also managed Red Bull Ghana in Africa in 2011-12.
Pros: Schattorie's NEUFC played gutsy, intelligent football right through the season, and saw him extract the best out of younger Indian talents like midfielder Lalthathanga Khawlhring (Puitea) and striker Redeem Tlang. Like Roca, his stints in Indian football will make him a familiar face both for the players as well as the administrators, a factor that also helps a coach in understanding the cultural gap between India and most other parts of the world.
Cons: At 47, the least experienced among all the coaches in this list. Also doesn't have any experience with a national team.