East Bengal coach Stephen Constantine feels that the Indian Super League needs to incorporate more modifications in its format and structure to help Indian football get stronger.
"I think there should be at least 12 teams and a process of promotion and relegation. The 12 teams play home and away, which should make 22 games for each side and then you split the top six and the bottom six teams in the league table to decide the champion and the team to be relegated. This will make 32 competitive games for a side in the season,” Constantine said during an interaction with the media on Saturday.
“I understand the Asian Football Confederation wants the teams to play at least 27 games to qualify for the Champions League. But playing four meaningless games in the Durand Cup (group league stage) with a lot of the sides sending their reserve sides negates the objective. We need to have competitive football on a weekly basis. In that respect shifting the ISL fixtures to weekends is a big plus this season,” the English coach said about the Indian calendar.
‘East Bengal needs a miracle to make it to knockout’
With his club making a late entry in the pre-season transfer market and also delaying the pre-season training, Constantine felt East Bengal is lagging behind in preparation and it would be a miracle if the team qualifies for the knock-out stage.
“East Bengal has not won the country’s top league title in the last 18 years and now we have a new team that started the season two months behind everybody else. I think it will be a miracle we qualify for the knockout stage,” he said.
“It will be a real big test for us when we face Kerala Blasters (in the season opener), which is a good side having retained the coach since the last season while also preserving the bulk of the side. We will be going there with a winning mentality and hope to give a good account of ourselves to the fans this time,” Constantine added.
“Many of the players that we have may not be playing the ISL if we did not take them. Let’s face the reality but for the players, it is an opportunity to flip their fingers at all the other teams who rejected them. In terms of fitness we are as good as we could be at the moment,” Constantine said, further analyzing his team’s chances.
When asked about the 4-3 win his team had in the Durand Cup against the former ISL winner Mumbai City FC, Constantine said, “That was a good result considering that Mumbai City was playing with most of the first team players. We played the Durand Cup, which for me was four friendly games, with less than two weeks of preparations with most of our foreigners either not in condition or had just arrived. It was a good performance that showed a lot of character and determination and I think we will need both in a good amount this season.”
‘Players from the previous generation stronger’
When asked to make his assessment of the generations of players he has coached in the country over the years, Constantine made an interesting analogy.
“We had more leaders back then. We had names like (Joe Paul) Ancheri, (I.M.) Vijayan, Mahesh Gawli, Climax Lawrence, Debjit (Ghosh), Alvito (D’Cunha), and Bhaichung (Bhutia). They were physically and mentally strong. Even now we have got players who are strong characters but the rules have changed a bit from the time I first took charge of the National team 20 years ago. It is easier for a player to pick up a yellow card now compared to what it was two decades back. Players like Debjit, Ancheri, and even Bhaichung were nasty, in the good way I mean, and would have ended with a red card in every match if they were playing under the present rules,” Constantine made the comparison with a hint of jest.
Constantine said that the Indian players are very receptive and eager to learn but the support staff of every side should share the technical inputs with the players, especially when it comes to the data captured by the GPS.
“I think Indian players are most ‘coachable’ as they are very receptive to new information. I was really shocked that no information was shared with them about the GPS they have to wear in a match or during practice. The GPS helps in injury prevention and measures the workload the players take in a match. If you are not sharing the GPS information with the players, then how are you helping them? We include GPS data among the many things that we discuss with the players. We are like teachers and trying to educate them about how to bring improvement in their performance," he said.