Stephen Constantine was re-appointed as India coach, after he accepted the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) offer on Friday. Constantine was India coach from 2002 till 2005, was the head coach of Rwanda where he guided them from being 132nd in the world to 68 in just six months, prompting the AIFF to approach him again. The 52-year-old, who will double up as the under-23 coach, is expected to take charge from the first week of February. In an interview with The Indian Express, he talks about his return, challenges that await him and the secret behind his success with Rwanda. Excerpts:
How different is it joining the team this time compared to your previous stint?
Well a lot has changed in the last 10 years and it is a different time, new faces, new people and new problems. The ranking is worse now than when I left, which is disappointing. We need to fix it. Of course, it will not be overnight and we will need to make some difficult decisions.
Is the current ranking (171) a fair reflection of India’s standing?
Well, fair or not that is where we are and it needs to change. I will take stock of things once I am there in a few weeks.
What was your assessment of India’s performances in the last decade?
I have not seen many of India’s games. But when you see the rankings, you have to think there are problems at every level.
How crucial will it be have a free hand in selection and play more friendlies?
I think for sure you need to have a free hand to be able to do whatever you need to do. It was a similar situation (India’s ranking) last time but I was given a free hand, allowed to do what I needed to do and we had success. Playing games are also important but you have also to consider the league schedule. There are many things that have to be considered. I have had a brief discussion (with the All India Football Federation) but if the coach can not select his own players, staff, schedules then there is no point saying you are a coach.
Between I-League, ISL and Federation Cup, and the occasional internationals, do you fear player burnout? How can the balance be achieved?
That is a good question. It’s precisely the reason we need to have consistent calendar where we all know who is doing what and when. That way we can avoid issues such as the club vs country saga and of course protect the players.
The Indian team is relying a lot on Sunil Chhetri. What needs to be done to expand player pool?
I really think that we need to develop more players through the I-League and ISL. I am hopeful that we can get players breaking through from the U-23 and U-19 sides and of course those playing in the above leagues.
Your success with Rwanda is seen as one of the key reasons for your return. What worked with Rwanda and can the same be replicated here?
Firstly, we had a group of players that wanted to do well and worked very hard for me. We played hard and fought for everything we got. We did not have the quality of some of the other nations but we had the spirit and we looked after each other. You have to prepare to be successful and we did. With India, we need to be patient. With some effort and proper planning, it can be achieved.