The former national team head coach has made some interesting and surprising selections.
The current generation of football followers identifies Stephen Constantine as the head coach who led the Indian national team to the AFC Asian Cup in 2019. However, the Englishman clearly has a massive affinity towards the players from his first stint in the country from 2002-05.
In the latest episode of Khel Now’s Beyond the Scores podcast, Constantine fondly remembered his team’s brilliant campaigns in the LG Cup and Afro-Asian Games that took place in 2003. Unsurprisingly, his combined India XI from players he coached across his two spells comprises mainly of players from his earlier tenure. The tactician opted for a 4-4-2 formation and his lineup is bound to raise some eyebrows.
Goalkeeper: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
The Bengaluru FC custodian made a name for himself in the early part of the last decade and developed to become a mainstay in the starting XI, earning the captain’s armband on a few occasions too.
In the podcast, the coach also remarked that he wanted Sandhu to return back from his spell at Stabaek FC to gain more playing time before the Asian Cup in 2019.
Right-Back: Samir Naik
Samir Naik was a full-back and a prominent face in the Dempo SC squad that appeared in the semi-finals of the AFC Cup in 2008. Naik was a robust defender, a no-nonsense character and he earned his first cap for the national team in 2002. He regularly represented the country and was regarded as one of the best players in his position at that point in time.
Centre-Back: Debjit Ghosh
Debjit Ghosh played for several iconic clubs like East Bengal, Mohammedan SC and Mahindra United in his career. He turned out for the Blue Tigers for a couple of years during Constantine’s first spell in-charge. He even led India to a third-place finish in the 2003 SAFF Gold Cup.
Centre-Back: Mahesh Gawli
Mahesh Gawli brought in a ruthless attitude to the backline. He had the demeanor of a leader, guile of a modern-day defender and delivered laudable performances on a consistent basis.
In addition to his creditable term at Dempo SC, Gawli gradually made a sizeable number of appearances for the Indian team under Constantine’s stewardship. Hence, he deservedly makes his way into the coach’s team ahead of other popular alternatives.
Left-Back: Subhasish Bose
On the lookout for a quality left-back, Stephen Constantine heavily banked on Subhasish Bose in the last couple of years of his job in India. The tactician entrusted Bose to lead the team in the SAFF Championship in 2018 and played every minute of India’s group-stage matches in the AFC Asian Cup 2019.
The ATK Mohun Bagan player made 14 appearances for the senior team under the watch of the former Millwall manager and thus became one of the key starters in the lineup.
Central Midfielder: Pronay Halder
Pronay Halder was handed his debut by the ex-Sudan manager in 2015. He played 19 times for the Blue Tigers under Constantine and was especially integral in the Intercontinental Cup triumph in 2018. Halder assumed the role of a defensive midfielder and his tenacious approach and work-ethic suited the coach’s demands.
Central Midfielder: Shanmugam Venkatesh
Constantine instated Shanmugam Venkatesh as an essential member of the lineup from 2002-05. The midfielder was even named as the AIFF Player of the Year in 2004-05.
Moreover, Venkatesh accompanied Constantine in his second stint from 2015 as the assistant coach of the national team and continues to bear that responsibility even after the 57-year-old’s departure last year.
Right Winger: Tomba Singh
Tomba Singh was an industrious, diligent midfielder who was awarded his first national team cap in 2002 by the former head coach. Singh represented the likes of Salgaocar FC, Churchill Brothers, Air India and East Bengal in his club career.
He is currently the assistant coach of I-League outfit NEROCA FC and seems to be one of the tactician’s more preferred players, considering that he edged out Udanta Singh to attain this spot in the lineup.
Left Winger: Renedy Singh
The former Indian skipper and stalwart, Renedy Singh, is one of the prominent names from the previous generation of Indian players. He was a skillful player, renowned for his free-kicks and deliveries into the box from wider positions.
Singh played for exemplary clubs like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and JCT FC in his club career and was an equally remarkable force for the national team.
Striker: Bhaichung Bhutia
Bhaichung Bhutia was a decisive part of the process that brought Stephen Constantine back to India in 2015. In the head coach’s earlier term, the striker from Sikkim had been one of the key members of the squad.
He had notched two goals in the LG Cup victory in 2002 and also bagged a couple in the 2002 Asian Games in South Korea.
Striker: IM Vijayan
“I spent a lot of time with IM Vijayan. I don’t think India is ever going to produce a player like him again. He was unbelievable,” said Stephen Constantine whilst describing the charismatic, influential erstwhile striker from Kerala. Vijayan was conferred with the Arjuna Award in 2003, which was during the tactician’s first spell in the country. He was named the ‘AIFF Player of the Year’ thrice before and the efficient goalscorer definitely struck a chord with the Englishman.
The former Rwanda national teach coach also mentioned the duo of Sunil Chhetri and Jo Paul Ancheri as ones who could be inducted into this assembly of players picked by him.