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Stephen Constantine exclusive: Coaching Pakistan; hopes for India; backing beloved Arsenal for title

Stephen Constantine has been in football management for 25 years and had the chance to lead six different national sides, none of which his own. Forced to retire early due to injury, the Englishman turned to coaching, initially learning his trade in the United States and Cyprus.

He earned his first gig in management as the head coach of the Nepalese national side before going on to manage India twice, Malawi, Sudan, Rwanda and, now, Pakistan. He has also had short spells at club sides APEP, Nea Salamis, Ethnikos Achna, Pafos and East Bengal. But what is it that draws Constantine to international management?

He tells “The best experience for me is when someone gives you the possibility to represent one country and to be responsible for the future and the result of that country. It's an honour and privilege for me to be that person who represents and achieves success for that country or population."

Does he find it tricky at times?

“There have been a number of different difficult times but you can't have everything in every moment and it does not always go well. It's normal to have good and bad experiences during your career."

Having managed numerous Asian countries and domestic sides, how does Constantine reflect on the development of football in the region?

"One of the biggest changes is that, all across Asia, everybody has realised that there is money to be made through football. We have games on TV all the time and people have realised, 'Wait a minute, if my son or daughter is good at football, then it is possible that we can make some money.' This has brought more people to play or to watch the game."

Constantine also sees the negative implications of money in football. He says with indignation: “On the other hand, some people shouldn't be in the game because they see it as an opportunity to benefit from the people and make money."

With a growing appetite for football in the region, how can the game develop further?

“The problem in Asia for me is that we don't pay attention to details. The level of coach education could be better because I see us, the coaches, as teachers of football for our players," Constantine explains. “But, in Asia, a lot of coaches just coach the players, they don't teach them how to play, they don't do it with passion."

He continues: “Another thing is that we don't have many players playing in Europe. There are players from Japan or South Korea playing in Europe but we don't have players from India or China playing in the Premier League. This is because in the region there is not enough focus on the development of the players — people are more focused on winning or trying to win."

Despite this, there are a number of Asian nations who are cultivating strong sides competing for the biggest honours. Constantine focuses on the Asia Cup which saw Jordan lose in the final to Qatar. “The surprise [package] was Jordan, they are a really good side but I didn't expect that they would make the final — it was an interesting match and Jordan were a little bit unlucky."

The tournament offers a glimpse into the promising future for Asian football, the English coach believes. “The Asian Cup is improving every edition and a super atmosphere is created in every edition. Qualifying for the Asian Cup is an achievement and you need to give your 100 per cent to do your best and achieve success."

Constantine has overseen the Indian national team twice and, in his second spell, helped them climb the FIFA rankings to 97th from 173rd when he took over. "It was a fantastic experience both times and we did well. The domestic league there does need to be stronger, we have the Indian Super League which has been a major reason for success during my time.

“[Since leaving], we have gone backward and are 121st in the rankings which is disappointing because I think the team is better than it shows. There is a lot of talent in India, but we need some of these players to go to other countries to gain more experience."

Constantine can see the talent and potential for football in India, but is there a particular player that he managed that stands out?

“I have had players who have played for Arsene Wenger at Arsenal or for other really good managers. It's a really difficult question for me to answer."

Wenger spent 22 years at the helm at Arsenal and holds a special place in the heart of Constantine. Even from his jobs abroad, Constantine is an Arsenal fan and still keeps close eyes on the Gunners. "I am quite happy being an Arsenal supporter at the moment. The Premier League is the best league by far because players and coaches know that if you don't play at your maximum you can lose against any team.

“By being such a fighting league every year we see more and more foreign investors coming into the Premier League. The TV broadcasting rights are unbelievable and all these have permitted the league to be at such a high level."

Will his beloved Arsenal come out on top?

“This year, three teams are fighting for the title and the difference between them is so small. I think they will fight until the last minute of the season and it will be a tough battle between them."

Constantine dreams of returning to manage in England one day but, after many years managing abroad, feels he may be perceived as an outsider to the English game. “I would love to coach in England, but unfortunately when you have many years abroad people think, 'We don't know if he could be good in England'."

He is not giving up hope just yet though. He says: “I think I deserve an opportunity to show my qualities in England. I love what I do and I am doing a sporting director's degree so who knows. Maybe in a few years, when I have stopped coaching, it can help me become a sporting director and start a new journey."

Few have the international management experience of Constantine and can offer as informed an insight into England's chances at this summer's European Championships. But how does he rate England's chances of success?

“England should always be there among the favourites and fighting for the cup. In the last competitions, we have been to the semi-final and the final but, for some small details, we haven't managed to win it. We have a good chance this year but there is also Germany or France to contend with. There are a lot of good teams but I think that our minimum objective is to be in the semi-finals of the competition."

- adapted by Jack McRae

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Xhulio Zeneli


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