Indian Football: Stephen Constantine - We have a team that will take us hopefully to the Asian Cup and beyond

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Ajith Namboothiri
Stephen Constantine discusses about Sunil Chhetri and company, the merger and the U-17 World Cup at the scouting workshop which took place at Kolkata

India national football team head coach Stephen Constantine was present in Kolkata for a scouting workshop with the Bengal football governing body Indian Football Association (IFA) and the state government. The 54-year-old was accompanied by All India Football Federation (AIFF) technical director Savio Medeira.

Discussing about the seminar, Constantine explained that the recruiters will hunt talent from educational institutes, the Santosh Trophy and any place which hosts the game. 

''This is the first actual workshop on scouting. We won't use these people to scout in the ISL (Indian Super League) and I-League. They will scout in the Santosh Trophy, universities, schools. Anywhere football is being played in India-it should be scouted. We need to have a continuous flow of players coming through the system,'' remarked the London-born gaffer.

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Further, he disclosed the motive of the workshop by stating that through the process of scouting, prospects will be shortlisted for Bengal and later for the national team. Constantine believes that through the workshop, the nation will be gifted with several candidates in the coming years.

''In order to do that (produce the system), we need to educate and teach the scouts what are they looking for. As you know, in most teams there is a spine. It starts with the goalkeeper and ends with the striker. Down the middle of that spine, you need some attributes. Down the sides, you need different attributes.''

''The question is what are we looking for, where are we looking and how are we looking. We will hopefully take one, two or three of them that will start scouting on a regular basis, not only for Bengal but for the national team.''

''First you scout for Bengal, then from Bengal for the national team. If you continue with this process, in five-ten years we will have a lot of players,'' he described.

Constantine with Indian team

The Blue Tigers, who were formerly placed at the 171st rank, are expected to jump to the 101st rank as per the revised FIFA rankings. When quizzed about the team's progress on the points table, Constantine mentioned that he was delighted with the news but believes the Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and company can perform more desirably.

''I would be a little happier if Bolivia didn't beat Argentina because then we would have been 97. Having said that, am I happy? Yes. Can we do better? Absolutely,'' expressed the coach.

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Further, the Englishman stressed on the need of reliable and firm players in the squad. He added that he will always be hunting for such players regardless of their background.

''The football team needs a spine, after giving debuts to 34 odd players, did you find the spine that could take India to the 2019 Asian Cup? With regard to the spine, I would always be looking at players who can make us better regardless of where they come from, provided they have Indian passports,'' disclosed Constantine. 

Showing his faith in the senior team, Constantine commented that he anticipates the lads to achieve greater targets in the future. ''I believe we have the nucleus of the squad, our average age is 24. I believe we have a team that will take us hopefully to the Asian Cup and beyond. And for the next four-five years,'' asserted the head coach.

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Constantine was further questioned about the uniformity in the coaching to which he explained the reason for kick starting the football workshop. The workshop has been planned to discover players at the right time and make use of their talents, he mentioned.

''We have a technical director that needs to take care of these things (coaching). I control the senior team and the 23s, it's more than enough trust me.

"The scouting workshop that we are trying to put in place will be here long after I am gone, and the coach after him, and the coach after him. This is what I want. I want us to have a pathway for Indian players who are spotted, correctly spotted the right age and the right candidates for the team.

"So, I think there needs to be a consistency and we are starting to get there. It takes time. But we are on the right track at the moment, so, so far so good,'' he disclosed.

Stephen Constantine Indian national team

There have been enough speculations of a one league system in the nation invloving the merger of India's top flight I-League and Indian Super League. However, coach Constantine isn't bothered by the proposals as he is more focused on the national squad.

''I think that's above my pay scale. What I am interested is there are games with Indian players so that I can select them for the national team. I have said quite a bit in the past about a lot of things and we don't need to be talking about that today,'' he answered.

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Debating about the Blue Tigers, Stephen talked about skipper Sunil Chhetri. The England-born had words of appraisal for the Indian ace but cleared that the Indian side isn't entirely relied on him. He assured that Chhetri's fellow team-mates are equally improving and will soon function like the 32-year-old captain.

''I don't think we are dependant on Sunil Chhetri. He is always at the right place at the right time. There is fierce competition for all places. Sunil Chhetri is a player who has been consistent, he is professional, he looks after himself and he is a great player and great leader. We are happy with him but there are plenty of other players who are coming up and we would continue to search for players that will help us,'' he expressed.

Sunil Chettri Stephen Constantine India SAFF Cup 2015

When asked to compare Chhetri with former Indian international Bhaichung Bhutia, Constantine commented that the two are precious in their own ways.

''They both are great players in their own right. Bhaichung (Bhutia) maybe was a little bit more aggressive. Maybe that was because he spent three years in England. But Sunil Chhetri is different, he can play a bit wider. He can come off the flanks. He can give us different looks if you like. I think there is quite a big difference,'' he replied.

Lastly, the coach shared words about the current scenario of football in India. First, Constantine opined about Indian Super League. The boss remarked that the tournament  has given India a global image and also gifted several capable players. 

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''The ISL has made us universal. It has shown that Indians not only play football but we are not bad either. We are good players. I think however things pan out in the future we know that we are centrestage,'' he voiced.

Later, he conversed about the U-17 World Cup scheduled to begin this October in the country. Constantine thinks hosting the World Cup is a massive achievement for the whole of India and the nation must seize the opportunity. 

''We have an U-17 World Cup, that's the first time in our history, (it) is going to take place. It's a huge honour for us and we should make the most of that. Because once the FIFA World Cup closes, we are on our own. And we need to make that we maintain the facilities and that the pitch is ok. So two-three years later we don't comeback looking for fields. 
It's very important that we take advantage of what FIFA is providing in terms of structure but we have to maintain them ourselves once they are gone,'' he signed off.