Shanmugam Venkatesh: 'Constantine's hunger still the same'

Indian national team assistant coach Shanmugam Venkatesh says Stephen Constantine's philosophy of believing in nothing but performance has been a cause for the team's recent "success".

India's assistant coach Shanmugam Venkatesh (extreme left) during a training session in the UAE ahead of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.   -  Special Arrangement

Shanmugam Venkatesh understands Stephen Constantine as well as anyone else. During his playing career, the midfielder excelled for the national team under the Englishman. Now, during Constantine's second stint in charge of India, Venkatesh is quietly making an impression as the assistant coach.

In an e-mail interview with Sportstar from the UAE, the 40-year-old discussed Constantine's coaching methods and India's plans for the AFC Asian Cup 2019.

The excerpts:

You played under Constantine over a decade ago; now you're his assistant coach. What has the experience been like?

Truly speaking, it's exactly the same. The amount of aggression and hunger he had then is exactly the same he has now. One thing which we have changed is our formation. Back then, we used to play as a 3-5-2 whereas now we have adapted to 4-4-2.

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How have the coaching methods changed since your playing days?

Back then, we used to focus mostly on on-ground training sessions but not other stuff like gym, rehab, and sports science. We have a 24/7 medical team now who are just a call away from the players. Every single activity is monitored; players are screened in the morning. All that plays a vital role.

What kind of players do you, as the coaching staff, look for?

We have a certain plan and we demand that the players execute that on the pitch. The players who fit the bill stay in the system. A total of 47 players have debuted in less than four years and some of these youngsters are an integral part of the current squad: this establishes our philosophy. We are the second youngest team in this Asian Cup after Vietnam.

The team looks defensively organized...

They've been terrific but it's easier said than done. It's not only the goalkeeper's and the defenders' responsibility to defend. Attacking is the best way to defend. It has been a collective effort to resist the opponent as well as launch a quick attack once we recover the ball. We have always stressed on a combined team effort. The game against Jordan was the best and it'll be remembered for long. The players showed their mental toughness.

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How has Constantine's coaching philosophy evolved?

His hunger is the reason we have qualified for the Asian Cup after eight years. The cause of the team's recent success is the coach's philosophy of believing in nothing but performance -- be it a youngster or a senior player. Performance has been the sole yardstick for Stephen.

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