Indian football team coach Stephen Constantine on Tuesday credited the Indian Super League for the national team’s progress in recent times, saying it has made the country “universal”.
“The ISL has made us universal. It has told everybody in the world that Indians not only play football but we’re not bad either, and we have some good players,” the head coach said on the conclusion of AIFF’s two-day workshop for scouting for coaches.
Five successful away wins during a 10-month unbeaten streak could take India’s ranking to 101 in the next FIFA rankings, which will be updated on Thursday.
“I would be a little beat happier if Bolivia didn’t beat Argentina, because then we would have been 97. Having said that, yes I’m happy and we can absolutely do better.”
The Englishman cleverly dodged the contentious issue of the ISL and I-League merger and quipped: “That’s above my pay scale… but it’s a nice question.
“All I am interested is that there are games with Indian players, so that I can select them for the national team. I’ve said quite a bit about a lot of things. We don’t need to be talking about that today.”
Constantine said Indian football was on the right track without depending too much on captain Sunil Chhetri and the competition for spots is fierce.
“I don’t think we are dependent on Sunil Chhetri. He happens to be in the right place at the right time which is why we play him. There’s fierce competition for all places. Now at the senior national team they are killing themselves (for places in the starting XI).
“We have three or four who can play leftback. We have four-five for right back. No one is guaranteed. This is the competition we want. There’s no complacency in our national team at the moment.
“I believe we have the nucleus of the squad. The average age is 24. We have built the team to make the Asian Cup, and beyond, hopefully. And for the next four-six years. I’m happy that we are doing good things this time as well.”
Constantine had coached Rwanda to a historic 68th ranking in November 2014, up from 134th in May, and quite similar to India’s scenario as they were ranked a lowly 171 when he took over two years ago.
“It’s different times, different players, different situations. I would not like to disrespect the players 10-12 years ago, to the players of now.
“For us to go to 135 was never been done before. I’m immensely proud of that as we look to make 101 and hopefully beyond that in the months’ to come. Relatively happy.
“Back in 2002 we had won the LG Cup, which was the first time India had won anything outside of the continent. We got a silver in Afro-Asian Games. We did a lot of good things last time.”
The 54-year-old, who has worked with both Bhaichung Bhutia and Chhetri, said they are two different players.
“They both are great players in their own right. Bhaichung may be a little bit more aggressive in his way, maybe that was three years in England.
“But Chhetri is different. He can play a little bit wider, he can come off the flanks. He can give us different looks if you like. There’s a quite a big difference.
“Chhetri is a player who has been consistent, he’s professional. He looks after himself. He is a great leader. We are happy with him obviously but we have plenty of others who are coming up. We will continue to look and search for players who will help us,” he said urging the need to find new talents.
Thanks to the upcoming U-17 World Cup, the football infrastructure in the country has got a lift and Constantine stressed on the need to make most of that.
“However, things pan out in the future we know that we are at centre stage. We have an U-17 World Cup that’s the first time in history to have happened. It’s a huge honour for us.
“We should make the most of that, because once that World Cup closes we are on our own. We need to make sure that we maintain the facilities, make sure that the pitches are okay two-three years later. We don’t come back looking for fields.
“It’s very very important that we take advantage of everything that FIFA are providing in terms of structure. But we got to maintain them ourselves after they are gone. There’s been a quite big difference.”
‘Correct scouting at age-group creates spine’
Constantine asserted the need to create a system wherein the process of scouting talent at the grassroots is correct.
“In most teams, there’s a spine. It starts with a goalkeeper, ends with a striker. Down the middle of that spine, you need certain attributes. Down the sides, you need different attributes. The question is where are we looking and how are we looking,” Constantine said on the conclusion of a two-day scouting workshop for coaches.
The AIFF-conducted first scouting workshop in India targets to educate the scouts so that the players are identified correctly.
“We are not going to use them to scout from I-League and ISL. We want them to scout from age-groups, Santosh Trophy, universities, schools, anywhere football is being played in India, it should be scouted. We should know every player, in every state, every position so that we have a continous flow of player coming through the systems,” the chief coach said.
By continuing the roadmap, Constantine hopes they would produce players of the calibre of playing in European leagues.
“I hope, I believe we will take one, two, three of them who will scout on a regular basis, not only from Bengal but for the national team. First you scout (talent) for Bengal, then we will scout for national team from Bengal. It’s a process. It takes time but we are on the right track at the moment. So far so good.”
The scouts will look for quality not quantity and they would not be from any particular age-group.
“Anything that moves. If it moves, we will scout it. It does not matter, if it’s 8, 10, 15, 20, if he can find somewhere to put to his player. It does not really matter the age group,” he said.