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‘There is a misconception that 1.25 billion people in India play football’

Published Jun 26, 2015, 10:02 pm IST
Updated Mar 28, 2019, 6:20 pm IST
Indian football coach Stephen Constantine, in an exclusive chat, talks about his vision

Mumbai: Indian football, currently going through a rough phase, has been slammed from all quarters after Sunil Chhetri and his young guns lost the 2018 World Cup qualifier matches, against Oman and Guam, a nation that’s ranked 33 places below the Blue Tigers. Stephen Constantine – the Head Coach – told this correspondent about his vision and how he plans to repair the damage. Excerpts

This is your second stint with the Indian football team. Any specific reason?


Earlier, I’d spent three years here. It was a successful stint and my family and I carried good memories from India. Now, people are more aware of football and the interest has vastly improved. So, it was a good opportunity to come back and try and help.

What went wrong against Guam?

I think we did not play to our best. Maybe, some of the players were expecting an easy game because when you meet Guam you do not think about them to be a very difficult opposition. But I said right from the beginning that all of these games would be difficult, including the one against Guam. I am fully aware of what Guam have been doing in the last two years. Guam fielded a number of US-based players and all of them have had some experience and have been trained under coaches for a long time. We have Indian players who are in the same situation but we were (are) not allowed to select them. This, in my opinion, should change. I also said that we lacked football intelligence (against Guam) and I stand by that. Our players do not have a basic understanding because they haven’t had that from an early age.

How do you plan to bring about the resurgence of football in the country?

You need to increase the pool of players for the senior team. That means, introducing young players earlier than you would like. The second objective is to create a system whereby our U-19s, U-17s and U-15s all follow the same philosophy. This particular viewpoint has been recently outlined and we have appointed Lee Johnson, who will be handling the U-19s and Nicolai Adam is in control of the U-17s. That will lead us to the scouting system. We also need to go into the play schools to introduce young players from the age of four, five, six and their parents and families to develop a culture about the ‘Beautiful Game.’

In a country with a population of 1.25 billion, there’s no dearth of talent, isn’t it?

There is a misconception that 1.25 billion people play football.

Sports Ministry has banned Indian players (playing abroad) from featuring in the national team. Your thoughts.

I understand the policy of the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs. I just feel that allowing registered Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) to represent their country, in certain sporting events, does not harm the Indian Government. Rather, it will enhance the position of India in the world sporting scenario.

India went into the World Cup qualifiers without playing a single friendly. Why?

It’s understandable that not playing international friendlies before the qualifiers is a huge disadvantage. Also, we just had four days to prepare and then, you begin to understand the problems of the coach. However, we may have an international friendly prior to our match against Iran in September.

Apart from Sunil Chhetri, the team doesn’t seem to have any match-winners. How can players be bred in the nation to increase output on the field?

This could be done if the number of foreign players is reduced in the I-League. Currently, as it’s four, most teams would bring in two strikers or two central defenders with the occasional attacking midfielder. That’s the spine of the team. If one reduces the numbers of foreign recruits, there are more prospects for Indian players.

Many promising domestic players like Subhash Singh, Durga Boro rose to prominence from Indian Super League (ISL). Why are those players not yet considered? Is there any other filter for them to feature in the national squad?

In ISL, you have five Indian players playing against or with six foreign players – some of whom are very good, while some are average and the rest of whom shouldn’t have been there. While the ISL created a huge following it’s not at the best level. I would expect Indian players to be at the forefront in the ISL. Obviously, everyone looks at the foreigners, I am only looking at the Indian players. I will be watching this ISL closely (I wasn’t here when the last edition was held) and if I see a player who impresses me, he will of course get the opportunity.

Has Indian football been everywhere with ISL, I-League etc and lost a particular direction?

I want the ultra professional presentation of ISL combined with sustainable and eight-month I-League calendar. If you quickly look across the ocean from what’s going on in USA and their style of development, you’ll understand better. If they can attract the likes of Kaka, Pirlo (Andrea), Gerrard (Steven), Lampard (Frank), Villa (David) and others, why can’t we?