Read to know the manager’s mindset and his insights after the team dual away victories over Cambodia and Myanmar. . .
Stephen Constantine is a happy man. The English coach is in his second stint as Indian National team manager and is making it count. Having defeated Cambodia 3-2 in an away friendly, Constantine made it one better with a sweet 1-0 victory in Myanmar in Asian Cup qualifiers, an away win in the country after 64 years.
Constantine has been thoroughly questioned on his choices and selection policy, but when the manager gets the desired results, there’s very little you can do as a critic. Aided by the ever-fighting Sunil Chhetri, Constantine said after the Myanmar game, “Myanmar had several chances to score, but we showed good spirit on the field today. We never gave up mentally and that aided us in our win. We had three to four chances in the match, but we could only take the one in the end. It was a very tight game and boys showed fantastic spirit to earn the win.”
Playing 12 versus 11 is difficult on the football pitch; ask a Galatasaray fan travelling to Fenerbahce. The Indian National team played its last two games in front of crowds to the tune of 70,000 and 20,000 and came out as victors, something which deserves a mention. Constantine laid out his views on the same.
“It reflects the maturity in the team. Although we are a young side, we have been together for more than two years. We know what to expect and because we have introduced so many players in the last two years, they have all have the experience to adjust to the crowd, their hostility, the travel schedule, the hanging around in hotels, airports, buses, etc. Unless you experience you can never adjust or do it. It’s not easy and it takes a particular kind of person to deal with it in a particular way. But unless you experience that, you never know how you are going to deal with it.”
Talking about his second stint, the former Rwanda manager said, “When I took over in my second stint, I had said that there will be will good days and much there will be bad days. We needed time to establish our character and needed to change some of our habits to get the Team to play to a level that suits India.”
Stephen takes a momentary pause and adds, “So far, some of the results have not been pretty while some of the games have been quite good. We know what is expected and we have added a bit of consistency to the game. There is a fierce competition for places in the squad and no stays guaranteed. But the boys want to be there, and because they want to be there, they give all they have and the ones who are doing that are getting the calls.”
The National Team has won its last six games on the trot, three of them away. The manager gives credit to the ‘Team First’ attitude and reflects, “It is not about who dribbled or who headed or who scored or who passed. Football is not just about who is in the spotlight or is in the thick of action. Rather is all about the unit – right from the players to the medical staff to the media officer to the equipment manager. They are all part of this as much are all the people working back in Football House in Delhi. Credit goes to all of them.”
Did the manager have a block about the Myanmar jinx which went back 64 years in history? “64 years is a long time — a very long time indeed. I was told that Myanmar have always been India’s bogey team but I was never aware of this slice of history. The players were not born, nor was I.” Stephen continues with a smile, “I am happy that we have broken the Myanmar jinx which has plagued over the 64 years. I am also happy that we have got rid of the tag of ‘not being able to win away matches’ which we had for long.”
Stephen rightly suggests that this is one of the most important victories in recent Indian footballing history. He adds, “When you look at the game most people may think it’s not a major issue – Myanmar is not a powerhouse in Asian Football. But when you look at the significance and what it means to Indian football, this is perhaps one of the biggest wins in our recent history. When you look at from inside, it’s bigger than huge. We now need to build on this.”
Has he ever seen his team taking a game lightly and ending on the wrong foot? He names the loss against Guam and adds, “The result against them (Guam) is something which I will not forget for a number of reasons. The complete disrespect which most people showed for Guam affected the team. We were way too confident and casual in our approach and we cannot allow this to happen again. I will not allow myself and players to be complacent again and fall into the trap.”
His substitution to bring on Udanta on the right wing worked wonders as the youngster made a brilliant run to cross for Sunil Chhetri to slot home. Talking about that, Stephen said, “Any coach makes substitution to try and change the game and our substitutions were brilliant on the field today. They really did the work for us.”
The National team will face Lebanon in an International friendly on 07th June and take on Kyrgyz Republic at home after six days. What next in the store, manager? “This win (against Myanmar) does not matter much. We still have to take six points to be able to secure qualification to the final of the AFC Asian Cup 2019,” adds Constantine signing off, ““India can defeat anybody on their day, but the job is still far from done. We have to stay focused and concentrate on the next game.”