Stephen Constantine is returning to coach India after the Englishman agreed to a second stint with the national team. The 52-year-old Constantine coached India from 2002-05 and was most recently head coach of Rwanda. In 2002, India won a six-nation tournament in Vietnam under Constantine, who took the tiny African republic to their highest-ever world ranking of 68 last month and has also coached the national teams of Nepal and Sudan.
Constantine would also be in charge of India's under-23 team and was expected to officially start work from the first week of February. The India coaching position became vacant towards the end of 2014 after Dutchman Wim Koevermans opted against renewing his contract following a string of poor results. The country of more than one billion people, regarded as one of soccer's sleeping giants, are currently languishing at their lowest-ever FIFA ranking of 171.
Excerpts from an interview with Constantine:
Q: How does it feel to be back as India coach? It's a record of sorts. No foreign coach has ever come back to India.
A: I am truly humbled. It was a great honour the first time... to be asked back is, well, a wonderful feeling. I am very proud as is my family that I am India's national coach for the second time.
Q: You were among three top contenders for the job. News is that Baichung Bhutia, the head of the AIFF technical committee, backed you to take charge. Recently, he mentioned to me that you were a good taskmaster.
A: I am a worker and love my job. It is of course great to hear that Baichung was behind me and I appreciate the fact that both the technical committee and the executive committee backed me. My success will be their success. Together, we can restore India's pride. Alone, I can't do anything.
Q: I am sure you are aware of India's hopeless FIFA ranking. I am not trying to put you off, but the challenge for you will be immense
A: Yes, it was a similar situation last time but I was given a free hand, allowed to do what I needed to do and we had success. The sad thing for me is we did not progress and we are in a worse situation than 10 years ago with regard to the national team. That should not happen and we need to fix it. Of course, it will not be overnight and we will need to make some difficult decisions on a number of issues. As things stand, things are obviously not working.
Q:How much of Indian football you followed in the last three years?
A: I keep up as much as I can. There has been a great deal of improvement and it is in better situation in terms of the set up but again, when we talk about the national team, it is not good.
Q: Did you speak to Wim Koevermans before you agreed to come on board?
A: No, I have not spoken to him. I want to make my own mind up on what is what and sometimes when people tell you certain things, it can influence you. I have already started to work on things that I want to do.
Q: India had a top-notch and highly-paid technical director, Rob Baan. But results have been zero. Do you think it's fair to demand results from a man who is paid a lot of money?
A: Well, a director directs. He doesn't implement. And if Rob has set out plans, goals, objectives that have not been implemented that is not his fault. On the other hand, how realistic are the goals set out to begin with, as if the AIFF are not in a position to implement these things, then that is another issue. You know for me it is never about one man, it's about the players, the staff, the admin guys, it's about everyone implementing the vision. I don't think you can blame one person.
Q: You arrive in India at a time when the Indian Super League (ISL) has come to roost. We see a slow death of the I-League. How do you see it?
A: No, I disagree. I think the ISL can reignite the I-League. We all want a better Indian League, national team and the ISL has shown that there is interest in football. So, we should be thinking how can we use what we learned from the ISL. I think the ISL has shown how important it is to market the product. That being the I-League, I also think that we really all need to sit down and see how we can improve things and help Indian football (where) we all benefit
Q: Bengaluru FC has been a trendsetter. They have taken Indian football by storm. A very professional approach. As long as Indian club football grabs the spotlight, teams like Bengaluru will prosper. Are you envisaging club versus country problems?
A: Bengaluru have been a great example of when you give the coach all the tools to succeed you get results. You hit the nail on the head when you said professional approach, this is what we need to be doing all across the board. You cannot get results any other way unless of course everyone around you is not professional and sadly that has been the case in India in the past. We have not taken things seriously with regard to preparation, training facilities, sports science, a consistent national calendar. The club vs country is a world-wide issue but if we have a consistent national calendar, then there will be no issues.