India head coach Stephen Constantine has talked up the young brigade that makes up his squad that is set to test themselves out in the AFC Asian Cup in the coming days.
The Blue Tigers qualified for the continental showpiece after a gap of eight years and Constantine has shown no aversion blood young talent in the course of that journey. The likes of Ashique Kuruniyan, Anirudh Thapa, Udanta Singh, Salam Ranjan Singh, Vishal Kaith, Vinit Rai and Germanpreet Singh have all had chances to prove their mettle and make it into the squad that flew to UAE.
India are now set to take on Thailand, Bahrain and UAE in Group A of the competition. The British coach feels that the experience they will gain from pitting their wits against the best of Asia will only help India build a stronger squad for the future.
"We are a very hard working closely-knit team. We have some very good young players and hopefully, they will get better with time," he told Goal.
"We need to try and get the youngsters involved, provided they are good enough. To have qualified for the Asian Cup with such a young squad really does bode well for the future as we are now going to have a young group of players who have experienced the Asian Cup. Going forward, that is really going to stand them in good shape.
"More than half of our senior team are U23s and we really should be pushing the boundaries day in and day out. We have got a very good nucleus and they must continue to develop," he warned.
India were languishing in the 173rd spot in the FIFA rankings back in 2015 when Constantine took over the reins. He has since managed to instil some discipline and forged an outfit which is tough to beat. India climbed up the rankings ladder and are now placed 97th in the world.
The coach refused to take all the credit for the same while pointing out that the world has changed their perception about Indian football.
"I cannot take all the credit (for that). There are a great many people involved and we have changed the way people see us in the football world. We finally have respect and that comes with hard work."
The Englishman, however, is not ready to rest on his laurels and wants to see further development towards producing young players and Indian coaches.
"There are a great many things we need to do to improve. We cannot sit back and say that we did a great job, let's relax as it has been the case in the past so often. We must continue to improve, especially, in helping our Indian coaches improve and get better, thereafter, by developing young Indian players."
The 54-year-old has developed a reputation for favouring a pragmatic approach where defensive organisation is paramount, as a result of which many teams have found India a tough nut to crack. While that came to the fore against teams like China and Oman, India's strikers have not been amongst the goals much this season.
Constantine wants his forwards to make the most of any opportunity that comes to them during the continental show-piece.
"Our style of play is always going to create three to four chances and we have to be more clinical in front of goal. Hopefully, the young forwards we have and those that are coming will be able to convert those chances into goals."
The coach, however, did rue the time he had with the national team to prepare for the tournament. The national camp started on December 17 after the Indian Super League (ISL) went into a break a day before. Constantine opined that he would ideally have liked a couple of more weeks with the squad in addition to a few more practice matches. India played only one game after the camp started (against Oman which they drew 0-0 on December 27).
It must be noted that after the Intercontinental Cup earlier in 2018, Constantine had openly stated that he wanted to start the camp on December 10.
"I do have a free hand from the All India Football Federation (AIFF) but sadly, I did not get the time I wanted from the ISL. We needed another couple of weeks and one to two more games in that time. With regards to the long camp, no, I would not have wanted a six-month or three-month camp.
"The players need to be playing competitive football, not meaningless friendlies against club teams. While it's great that you have time with each other, it's tough motivating players for games that have no real meaning. It is not realistic unless, of course, you can secure 14-16 internationals."