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Stephen Constantine concerned with fitness levels of players ahead of crucial Asian Cup

Constantine reckons this Indian team can now achieve, not merely compete.

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Constantine is bullish ahead of his side’s Asian Cup qualifiers

“So far so good. Unfortunately, we had the AFC Cup which took 9-10 players away from the full week of training. They’re in okay condition.” You can tell. Every time Stephen Constantine attempts to transform this Indian team from mere competitors to achievers, haphazard schedules always find a way into his plans.

But as the national side gears up for the crucial AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, there’s no doubt that the English coach has at his disposal, a core group of players who thoroughly enjoy playing under his tutelage.

“We have to learn how to play smart”

As Stephen expresses, positivity flows but with a sense of caution, “The first round of qualifiers, we learnt how to compete because we weren’t even competing against anybody two years ago. We couldn’t even beat Nepal. This year we have to learn how to qualify and we have to play smart.”

Clubbed alongside Myanmar, Macau and Kyrgyzstan, the coach seemed satisfied with the draw,”It’s not bad, it could have been worse. But we got to do the job on the pitch. I think we have a chance, of course.”

2017 does look positive. The Indian team has games confirmed up till October. A rare phenomenon considering the Blue Tigers last played a competitive match more than six months ago.

Also read: Arnab Mondal feels qualifying for AFC Asian Cup vital for future of Indian football

With 31 players called up for the preparatory camp, Constantine reckons calling up so many players is a double-edged sword, “It’s not ideal but we have a bigger pool of players and more competition for places. We have 2-3 players for each position. The guys who can do the work, they’ll be selected.”

But whether Constantine and his staff like it or not, his responsibilities lie even beyond the senior national team, “We’re looking for U-21 players, players from the Santosh Trophy too. Ideally, you want the clubs to be scouting the players, then we can scout the teams. Not the Indian team scouting players for the clubs.”

Concerned with lack of fitness

The manager admits fitness is one aspect that still concerns him. He believes the players were fitter back in September when they thrashed Puerto Rico 4-1 in Mumbai. The 54-year old, though, is embracing new age technology to improve this situation.

“It does not match up but we haven’t had access to the players. Obviously, when they go back to their clubs, it’s a different level. The intensity is different and we are working on improving that. The boys know what’s expected. But they know they need to be doing more work at their clubs.”

“We have an app whereby we know what every player is doing in every club. They fill in the information into the app, it takes just one minute. I, Danny (fitness coach) and the doctor get this information. So when the player arrives, we know immediately what he needs to do. We can help them recover quicker than before,” he explained.

Constantine was also with the U-17 Indian team for a week after Nicolai Adam’s controversial resignation. “The national coach should lead all the national teams. I mean lead in terms of philosophy, selection of the coaches and methodology. Because eventually, they’re going to train under the national coach,” he opined.

Stresses for one league system

Asked how far India are from performing consistently in Asia, the coach threw back a question to the media, “Which are the best leagues in Asia? We could say Iran, Saudi Arabia. What do they all have in common?” “One league”, a journalist answered to which Stephen nodded in affirmation.

The manager’s decision to not call upon the services of a single Aizawl FC (I-League table toppers) player was met with some surprise but he explained his reason for doing so. “I need to see something, as a team, they’re playing very well. They’re the Leicester City of India.”

“Look, I have experimented over the last two years and I don’t need to do that now. I have a group of players that I am comfortable with. So for somebody to come in, they need to be better than what I have. Not the same. I am sure there will be players in the future that catch the eye,” he signed off.

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