Making a name alone is not enough

THE English football coach Stephen Constantine's route to India was via Nepal, where his success in taking the national side to a silver medal finish in the 1999 SAF Games had been taken note of by the Asian body.

THE English football coach Stephen Constantine's route to India was via Nepal, where his success in taking the national side to a silver medal finish in the 1999 SAF Games had been taken note of by the Asian body. With training Cyprus as his only previous experience, this Anglo-Cypriot cannot be said to be on the same plane as some of his predecessors who had come to India. For instance Ceric Milovan, Jozef Gelei and Jirik Pessek, all had worked with World Cup squads.

If ever that shortcoming was held against him, then the 41- year-old Constantine has already proved himself thanks to a string of good performances by the Indian side, starting with the LG Cup success in Vietnam in 2002 up to the latest silver medal finish in the recent Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, for which he has been recognised by the AFC as the `coach of the month' (October).

The honour conferred on Constantine is not new to Indian football; his predecessor Sukhwinder too was bestowed this award after India shocked UAE in a World Cup qualifying match. But what is significant is that by giving the recognition the Asian body has also, in one stroke, elevated the stature of the competition in Hyderabad, recognising it as what the Organisers would have wanted it to be known as — `best of Africa versus the best of Asia'.

Actually, it was not. Steeped as it was in uncertainty, the Hyderabad competition had just one first rung national team in the field and that was India, while the rest of the squads were diluted outfits, one `national' team even proving to be a mere club side!

The effort here is not to question the merit of India's overall show nor Constantine's selection for the AFC honour but things have to be put in the right perspective.

Be that as it may, a recognition is a recognition just as a victory is a victory, no matter the level of competition nor the contenders. Indeed it can be argued that nobody had asked say Rwanda or Zimbabwe or Burkina Faso, all ranked above India in the FIFA rankings to come with poor sides, just as none expected Africa to hold back giants like Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana.

Such arguments cannot of course hold water now when the end result is what counted. India reached the final and the credit in moulding the players had to go to the Coach. And Constantine has done this several times. In fact two months after he took over in June 2002, the Englishman had given Indian football fans enough to rejoice when the national team won the five-nation Under-23 LG cup tourney in August.

Soon he had this team creating ripples in the Busan Asian Games, where India missed a quarter-final berth to Bahrain through an inferior goal difference. Equally creditable was the show of India Under-18 squad, under him, which won the Ian Rush trophy tournament in Wales beating Brazil's Botofago club in the final.

Undoubtedly Constantine, it is perceived now, has given a Midas touch to Indian football. Essentially meant for the country's youth development programme, the Englishman's inputs have benefited the seniors too. His stress on `attack' as the better part of valour has sunk in well with the Indian boys.

A sample was the show in the Afro-Asian Games competition where the national team played all-out attacking football.

There was ingenuity in his selection of players, Jatin Bisht making his international debut and proving to be a revelation while his faith in the old fox I.M. Vijayan and Jo Paul Ancheri was undiminished and it paid dividends.

In fact there was little that Indians or Constantine did wrong in Hyderabad until a world class goal undid the nation's dream of a gold.

But for all his winning ways, Constantine needs to polish his approach to the media and perhaps even in handling fellow Coaches.

His snubbing of Nayeemuddin and Victor Amalraj, both India-Internationals, at a post-match press meet in Hyderabad smacked of bad attitude, but worse was his dismissal of the media.

Perhaps it had to do with some bad experience earlier but it does not help if he fails to interact with the media. Now that he has earned a deserving recognition it is to be hoped that Constantine would smoothen out those rough edges in his character.