"I hope to let my work speak for itself" - Indian national football team coach Stephen Constantine
Over the years, the FIFA Rankings have developed into an ingenious piece of mechanism, enabling the spectators to glance and learn, after every month, not only the relative position of their national side but also the state of the sport there. Circa May 2014 and the sparsely populated East African state of Rwanda were 134; scheduled as they were to host the African Cup of Nations in two years’ time, that called for desperate measures.
And they did just that, appointing an Englishman who had previously plied his trade at Malawi, Sudan and Cyprus amongst other places; the results were for everyone to see. The Amavubi’s, as they are fondly referred to as, jumped more than 60 places in 6 months and are now ranked 68th in the world.
Compare that to India, who were ranked 109 in 2005 and are 171 now. While 2005 might seem to be an arbitrary year, that’s precisely when a certain Stephen Constantine quit the national team to return to his native England and take charge of Millwall. Over the years, he has managed a multitude of teams, including Rwanda.
Constantine’s is an extraordinary story, initiating in relative obscurity and developing into an almost sedate, carefully narrated fairy tale. Dedicated to the point of obsession, inescapably intolerant and socially dexterous, his has been a remarkable journey and one that will almost certainly be thrust into the limelight as he was unveiled to the media in New Delhi as the coach of the Indian team for the second time.
In a freewheeling chat, the Englishman spoke about his experiences from Africa, the current state of Indian football and how he intends to take it forward.
Q. It’s great to have you back. How are you feeling about taking the job for a second time?
I would firstly like to thank the AIFF for entrusting me for the job, second time around. It’s great to be here again, and as much as I am excited about it, I hope to let my work and the team’s performances speak for itself.
Q. What would your immediate and long-term goals be?
(Laughs) The short term plan is to win the next game, the long term accordingly would be to win the game after. On a slightly more serious note, let’s not think too far ahead of us; we will be giving in our best, the results shall follow soon.
Q. Your first assignment would be the World Cup qualifier against Nepal. Considering you have coached them before, would that help you prepare the team better?
It wouldn’t be an advantage for me since I have coached them before, especially since it’s almost been 15 years that I was there. But yes, I know what the structure is over there and I can assure you it will be tough. We will work extremely hard though, and try and overcome them over two legs.
Q. What differences do you see here, from your last stint as Indian coach?
See, I wouldn’t like to compare; the team from 13 years ago was a lot different. There have been some great improvements in Indian football and all of that is extremely encouraging.
The ISL has emphasized that we love football as much as we love cricket, and we need to act now, to make something out of it.
One thing that hasn’t changed though is the focus, or rather the lack of it, on the age group structure. That really needs to be upped in order for us to be even the slightest bit competitive.
Q. Adding to what was just asked, what do you think has gone wrong between when you left and now? (India was ranked 109 and now it’s 171)
There is no point dwelling on what should have been done. We obviously haven’t done too well internationally. Add to that sparse fixtures over the years and we have the answer to the ranking puzzle.
We need to look forward to the future though, and that way the Under 17 WC is extremely vital. If we manage to put up a decent team there and be competitive, it would pave the way for a balanced senior team over the next few years.
Q. What was the motivation for you to return?
The publicity and awareness surrounding Indian football is at an all time high. And if we don’t cash in on it now, we never will. Needless to say, like most of you, I believe in the same. Also, I have friends here, these ties made me come back too.
Q. What would you say about the curtailed I-League and how the ISL is affecting its players?
Our players are playing 66-67 games a year, and that’s a problem. We need to preserve them better. For that to happen, the leagues need to be scheduled better. We can’t deny the boon that ISL is, we just need to utilize it better.
Q. Have you managed to talk to the team captain Sunil Chhetri yet? How pivotal will he be to your plans?
I haven’t. In fact, I haven’t zeroed in on a captain yet. The whole squad will come in for a camp, and we will take it up from there.