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My biggest achievement so far is becoming #100- Stephen Constantine

Written by: Uttiyo Sarkar

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Constantine spoke before the crucial games in June when India faces Nepal in a friendly and Kyrgyz Republic in an AFC Asian Cup qualifier...

Indian National team manager Stephen Constantine interacted with the media in a pre-match press conference in Mumbai, talking about the National team's pivotal games next month which includes the crucial Asia Cup Qualifier against Kyrgyzstan.

The Indian National team also take on Nepal on the 6th of June in a friendly tie, both of which will be telecast on Star Sports. Constantine spoke with the press ahead of these vital games next month which can decide the team's momentum heading into a slew of important games in the next few months.

Constantine was asked about his opinion on Players of Indian origin, who do not hold Indian passports and their chances of playing for the National team, to which he replied, "Brazil are doing it, Germany are doing it, Italy are doing it, why aren't we? We have at least 4-5 players who can walk into the team and make us better overnight. This is not my choice as I'm very happy with players I have, but if I had opportunity to bring in players who want to play for India then, of course, it makes things better for me."

He was asked whether bringing in these players is a temporary solution or a long-term one for the National team and he answered, "The long-term solution is improve coaching in India. We have talent in this country, more than most people know. The problem lies in looking for it. We are looking for players with our scouting system. I think every boy in India knows he has an opportunity to play for the national team because of the scouting network. We've selected more than 50% of the academy players. We are looking at every tournament to select best players for the National team. We have registered 8 players from Santosh Trophy and university tournaments that took place in last few days in Mumbai. 8 of the players have been registered for the U-22 team (not selected)."

Constantine was then asked about his thoughts on how difficult it was to arrange a preparatory match ahead of the Asia Cup qualifier, to which he said, " Lebanon don't play like Kyrgyzstan. My first choice would be Uzbekistan to play. But they have bigger fish to fry. Turkmenistan are playing a home game, so they're not going to play. Lebanon are a very good side, as are Yemen and Bahrain. But it's very difficult to arrange these games. I look at every possible team that could come in and play us on the way to Kyrgyzstan. You have to look at others' schedule, but we need games. Nepal has been a thorn in our side for years. They will pose a great threat at this point."

Sunil Chettri is not expected to play against Nepal, and the gaffer was asked to give an update on him. He explained, "We don't know whether he'll be ready for the Kyrgyzstan game. He won't be ready for the Nepal game. We are going to see him on the 2nd when he comes. We have to evaluate how fit he is. I think it'll be a last-minute decision."

He was also asked about how the side will cope without the skipper to which he said, " There is going to be a moment when we will be without Sunil. Be it now or next year. I don't know how long he has. But what I've said to him that as long as he's doing his amazing work and as long as he's fit enough, he'll  be part of this time as long as I'm the coach. If that changes whether he cannot do the work or if somebody outperforms him in that position, then we might make some decision. At the moment, Sunil is okay."

There's a lot of competition in the Indian National team right now, something that wasn't there before Constantine arrived. He was asked whether this level of competition was his biggest achievement, to which he replied, "I think my biggest achievement is building a team that's going be around for next 5-6 years. My biggest achievement is being #100 so far. I'm very happy that we have reached this position. I think for me, as a coach, the biggest achievement is seeing a young player break into the national side. I don't give debuts for the sake of giving debuts. When I came here, I knew we needed to change something. I think the culture has completely changed at the moment, players come in here and they don't know how long they'll last. When that's the case, you tend to enjoy as much as you can and that's what I want."

Constantine was then asked about how difficult he thinks the match against Kyrgyzstan will be with the opponents being a powerful side. He quipped, "They're a big side, very physical. They'll be very threatening at set pieces. We cannot take a moment to breathe against them. You need to be more alert at times like that because somebody can run behind you and score a goal.  They will be a tough team, but so are we."

The gaffer was asked about his impressions on the current India U-17 squad to which he opined, "I had a week with them prior to going to Europe. They are a good group of boys. They're very hard-working. We tried to increase their level and awareness and gave them a real feeling that they are on a long ladder. I hope they get results because they are the possible future of Indian football. "

India is going to play around 15 games from now to March 2018 and there's the factor of new players blending into the team's game. Constantine was asked about this to which he said, "You look at club teams around the world. You listen to the managers. We brought in five new players. We need time to blend them in. How long do you need players to blend into the team? That can take a week or six months. And that's having them training every single day. But we only have our players for 9 days. So I think when you look back. 32 players over 2 and a half years. I think it's a good deal. We need more time but it's a good deal for me."

Finally, he was asked about the fatigue factor of players having to simultaneously play league-football and also perform for their National team in all these games. Constantine explained, "We have to manage it. Clubs have also managed it. So I go back to Federation Cup. We need to play all our players in every one of those games (3 games in 5 days). If it was upon me, I wouldn't have allowed it. I have a squad of 23 players so you don't overstress. We have some fantastic people in management. We want India to perform in every opportunity. But we need best players in the team to do that. But sometimes I cannot play because they are not prepared. They are fatigued mentally and physically coz of ISL/I-League. And I'm happy we're playing 15 games. I wish it was 35!" he signed off with a smile.

Published: Thu May 25, 2017 01:23 PM IST

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