Asian Cup 2019: 3 reasons why Stephen Constantine did not deserve an extension
Indian team's stay in UAE was cut short as they lost to Bahrain 1-0 due to an injury-time penalty conceded by on-field captain Pronay Halder. Earlier in the tournament, India beat Thailand 4-1 giving the fans hope that they will make it to the knockout stages but things went wrong soon as the Indian team lost 2-0 to hosts UAE and then followed it up with another loss when a draw could have secured their progression to the round of 16.
Another exit from the group stage at a major tournament for the Blue Tigers leaves the fans frustrated, disappointed and in agony.
To the respite of some fans though, Stephen Constantine stepped down immediately after the Bahrain game. In the post-match press conference, he said "I have been here for 4 years. My objective from day one was to qualify for the Asian Cup. I have done that and broken a few records with the national team in the progress."
"My cycle is finished with India. I did what I was asked to do and more. It's time to move on from India" he continued.
As always, the former Indian team head coach was seen praising himself in front of the press rather than admitting the mistakes or mentioning possible improvements in the gameplay or squad. While one can't deny that India is in a better position than it was in 2015 when the Englishman began his second stint as the Indian team manager, one can't help but notice the negative tactics used throughout his reign, especially in his last match against Bahrain.
While the Brit resigned himself from the position, we will look at three reasons why the 56-year old did not deserve a contract extension from AIFF.
#1 Leaving out in-form players from squads
Not selecting in-form players was a trend set by Constantine since his early days in charge of the Indian national team. Even in his first stint as the Indian coach, the Brit stuck with a core group of players and tried to grind out results with those players.
While these methods were mildly successful, one can't ignore the players playing at the highest level in the form of their lives and hope to come out with great results.
While the process of sticking with a core group of players, whether they are in a good run of form or not obviously affects the short-term results, it also messes with the young players' mentality trying to break into the national team.
For the 2019 Asian Cup, young talents Rahul Bheke and Michael Soosairaj were blatantly left out of the 50-man probable squad with the likes of Sarthak Golui and out of form Balwant Singh making it to the provisional squad.
#2 Sunil Chhetri feud
There were reports of an alleged feud between the head coach and the former captain Sunil Chhetri less than 3 months before the Asian Cup was scheduled to kick off. While the exact reason for the feud was never revealed, it was reported that the forward was not satisfied by the tactics used by the British coach and asked AIFF to replace him and get a better coach at the helm.
Chhetri, the leading goalscorer in the nation's history was stripped off captaincy duties before the China friendly which was never accepted within the squad or by the fans. The 34-year-old is an absolute fan favourite and a natural leader respected by everyone in the national team squad.
While rifts between the manager and star player is not a new thing, a nation trying to grow its stature in the game should stay away from distractions of this scale.
#3 Negative football tactics
The Indian team was ranked below 165 when the Englishman took charge back in 2015 and since then, has helped the Blue Tigers achieve the 97th rank, a massive improvement by any standard. But, the tactics used to get this rank, like, not playing a friendly in the international break, avoiding tough oppositions who can give a true reality check and defending with 11 men in their own half when the team is 1-0 up were never accepted by the fans.
Instead, the Indian team should focus on playing better football if they want to keep the dream of qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup alive rather than manipulating FIFA rankings or arranging friendlies with minnows like Nepal instead of Oman, Syria etc.
Also, when the Indian team just needed a draw to qualify for the Round of 16 in the ongoing Asian Cup, Constantine set up his team to defend for the whole 90 minutes rather than going out and playing positive football like they did against Thailand which ended up with a sore defeat for the team and the fans.