Stephen Constantine’s second stint as coach of the Indian national team came to a tearful end with the Englishman resigning from his role post the team’s group-stage exit in the 2019 AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Asian Cup.
While the end of his tenure might have ended in an agonising defeat, there is no denying that Constantine’s second tenure has been an extremely fruitful one for Indian football. From taking India’s FIFA rankings from the lowly 173 into the top 100 to achieving qualification for the Asian Cup, the Englishman has given plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the team’s future.
However, one of Constantine’s greatest success in his second stint is the solid feeder system to the national team he has established at the U23 level.
Juggling his senior team coaching duties with the U23 squad, Constantine has turned the junior team into a reliable conveyer belt of talent for the future. It is no surprise that many of the final 23-man India squad for the Asian Cup were players who had played under the English coach at the U23 level.
Constantine showed no hesitation in blooding youngsters to the national team and his insistence on taking an U23 squad for the 2018 SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Championship in Bangladesh was further testament to that trait.
There, the Indian youngsters gave a good account of themselves, especially in the semi-final against arch-rivals Pakistan but were unfortunate to fall at the final hurdle against the Maldives.
That was followed up by a highly successful tour of Australia where India’s U23 squad notched up wins over APIA FC U20 and Rydalmere Lions FC.
While India missed out on qualification to the 2018 AFC Asian U23 Championship, they did impress in their three qualifiers against Syria, Qatar and Turkmenistan. Despite a narrow 0-1 defeat to Qatar which signaled the end of their qualification hopes, India colts earned rave reviews for their brave display.
“I remember when we played against India. They were very good and they have grown a lot in the recent years,” Qatar U23 star forward Almoez Ali had told Goal about that game.
“I liked the way they play against us. They were strong physically and they ran up and down throughout. They move the ball very well and I told them to keep going like this and improve,” he had added.
Ali is now banging in the goals for Qatar’s senior team and has been sensational in the ongoing Asian Cup where he is currently the tournament’s leading scorer with seven goals in just three matches.
That India U23 squad included the likes of Lallianzuala Chhangte, Nandhakumar Sekar, Lalruatthara and Germanpreet Singh. All of these players are either a part of the Indian senior team currently or are knocking on the doors.
One aspect on which Constantine cannot be faulted for was the faith he showed in the youth players and it is to his credit that India have such a young core at the senior level currently.
All of this has stemmed from his good work at the U23 level and it is imperative that the next coaching setup for India does not let it go to waste. A promising U23 setup is pivotal to India’s cause in the long run and the momentum which has been generated by Constantine should not be halted in the coming future.