Constantine worried by players’ fitness levels

The squad leaves for Tehran on Monday morning for the forthcoming Russia 2018 Joint Qualification Round 2 match against Iran. Post the match against Iran, India is scheduled to play Turkmenistan in Kochi on March 29.

Constantine is willing to look beyond the Hero I-League and into the State leagues, the Santosh Trophy and even the second division to scout for players.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

A day prior to the Indian football team’s departure to Tehran for the forthcoming Russia 2018 Joint Qualification Round 2 match against Iran, coach Stephen Constantine admitted the fitness levels of his players are ‘worrying’.

“We have conducted some tests and the fitness levels are not very encouraging. All I can say is that the players need to be in better condition than they are,” he stated during a chat with the media. “You need to sweat and run.

“Playing in Iran will get as difficult as it can get. They have a history of playing in the World Cup and are the giants of Asia, presently placed at 44. It’s like David vs Goliath on the field,” he added. For the record, India are placed 116 places behind at 160.

The squad leaves for Tehran on Monday morning. Post the match against Iran, India is scheduled to play Turkmenistan in Kochi on March 29.

“We will face a lot of difficulties against Iran. The concern also is to stay away from injuries and yellow cards as we play Turkmenistan at home on 29th and aim to make the most of it. I may have to juggle a few things around.”

Targets achieved

Looking back at his second stint in India, Constantine stated that he has been able to achieve his targets so far.

“My first target was to take the team to the World Cup qualifiers which we achieved. The next target was to retain the SAFF Championship and we came out triumphant. The next goal is to be there at the final qualifiers for the 2019 Asian Cup and I want to achieve it too,” he declared.

“The AIFF administrators have given me all the support and the freedom to do things as I see fit. I am thankful for that. Furthermore, right from my team manager to the medical staff to the equipment manager — all my support staff have been excellent,” he maintained.

“In the process we have handed International debuts to 22 players in 10 months. I have also been able to bring the average age of the team down from around 32 to 24. My aim is to develop Indian players and leave a legacy behind when I leave.”

Scouting for players

In Delhi, where the team assembled prior to departing to Iran, Constantine has had six practice sessions in four days.

“During my tenure the best players in the Hero I-League have been players who have come from the national team. There were players who were overlooked for various reasons — look at Eugene, Rowlin, Lobo, Sandesh, Ganesh, Kotal, Sehnaj, Holi, Pronoy, Gurpreet and you will understand it. They will only get better with experience and time,” he felt.

“When I came in, the easier option would have been to continue with the tried and tested. But I chose the other path to have new blood inducted in the squad which was harder. Simply because I want to leave India in a better position than what I had when I came in.”

Constantine has made no secret of the fact that he is willing to look beyond the Hero I-League and into the State leagues, the Santosh Trophy and even the second division to scout for players.

“I recognise a player the moment I see him. He doesn’t need to do anything extra for me. If he has got it, I will squeeze it out from him provided he wants to be there.”

The team which leaves Indian shores at 10.35 on Monday (March 21) morning will land in Tehran (via Dubai) at 7.55pm (Iran Time) the same day.