Sources say some senior Blue Tigers have opposed the extension of the Englishman’s contract beyond March 2018.
If the phrase ‘a bed of roses’ could ever be used in the context of sport, it would apply now to Indian football. The country is receiving rave reviews for hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup, its first major FIFA event. Moreover, the national team has just qualified for the AFC Asian Cup for the first time since 2011 and had scaled double digits in the FIFA rankings not so long ago. But, do not be deceived by the fanfare. For, apparently, there is trouble brewing beneath the surface in the national team.
According to our sources close to the development, some senior players are pushing for the removal of manager Stephen Constantine deeming him ‘technically not good enough’ to lead the side.
The players have taken exception to Stephen Constantine’s tendency to take all the credit for India’s recent good performances and say they have worked hard to help India scale new heights. They also feel that the manager’s need to hog the limelight is undermining their contribution and affecting the morale of some players.
Although, the national team’ good form means Constantine’s stock is high, it is also true that his repetitive comments in criticism of the I-League and ISL have not gone down well with the major stakeholders in Indian football.
According to the Telegraph, five top players of Constantine’s starting XI recently met the federation’s General Secretary Kushal Das during the national camp in Mumbai and said a technical assessment of the coach should be done with immediate effect.
When quizzed on his interaction with the players Das conceded to the meeting but remained tight-lipped about the deliberations saying, “I do meet players, coaches and officials regularly on various issues. I am in no position to discuss such things.”
It is understood that the issue has been simmering for some time and was also a subject of discussion at the last AIFF Executive Committee meeting in Delhi earlier this month, where Das is said to have briefed the committee of the players’ unhappiness.
“When a member asked whether the coach’s contract would be renewed beyond March 2018, the general secretary stated the players had expressed some dissatisfaction about Constantine,” a member present at the meeting said.
Sources said the main qualm of the players is that the coach rarely gives them credit after important victories and tends to hog the limelight himself. They also feel the coach’s lack of trust and his highly regimented approach could have a negative effect on senior players, whose sense of responsibility towards the team cannot be undermined.
What has further fuelled the problem is Constantine’s recently released autobiography From Delhi to the Den, which has hit stands a couple of months ago. In the 13th chapter of the book, under the heading “Fighting the Superstars”, the Englishman makes a reference about how the lure of big money in the ISL might have affected the performance of certain players in India’s match against Guam in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers.
As if that was not enough, he names captain Sunil Chhetri and midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh as the highest paid footballers among the Indians in the ISL. Though he said the duo had always been fantastic for the national team, the comment has not gone down well with the duo.
The players, sources said, told officials that Constantine’s technical knowledge and ability was limited and he was benefiting mainly from the players’ high fitness standards.
According to the officials, some players feel that Constantine has had little to do with the team’s recent good form, instead crediting the hard work of individual players and a bit of luck. It is believed that if the issue is not resolved soon, the players are prepared to directly approach AIFF President Praful Patel to get their way.
Having joined the team in February 2016, when Indian football was at a dismal 173 in the FIFA rankings, Constantine had taken the team into the top 100, for the first time in more than 20 years. Under him, the team has performed exceptionally well and is currently in the midst of an 11-match unbeaten run.