"Qualifying for the group stages of the African Cup of Nations with Rwanda was special, but I think taking India to the Asian Cup Finals and then beating Thailand 4-1 in the first game, was and has to be my biggest achievement. It is equivalent to Iceland going to the Euros with the difference being, none of my players were playing outside of India"...
Photo Credit: Fox Sports Asia
Name, age, where you are based?
Stephen Constantine 57 years old based in Cyprus
Current Role/past roles:
I'm currently delivering FIFA courses across the globe
2015-19 INDIA - National Team Head Coach
2014-15 RWANDA - National Team Head Coach
2013-14 APPOLLON - Assistant Manager (Super League Greece)
2012-13 ETHIKOS - Head Coach (Premier League Cyprus)
2010-12 NEA SALAMINA - Head Coach (Premier League Cyprus)
2010-10 APEP - Head Coach (Premier League Cyprus)
2009-10 SUDAN - National Team Head Coach
2007-08 MALAWI - National Team Head Coach
2005-06 MILLWALL FC - First Team Coach
2002-05 INDIA National Team - Head Coach
1999-01 NEPAL National Team - Head Coach
2000-01 AFC BOURNEMOUTH - Academy Coach
2004 UEFA PRO LICENCE The FA
1999 FA ADVANCED LICENCE The FA
1996 USSF A LICENCE USSF
What have you been doing with your down-time and how difficult is it to enjoy down-time away from the game, when you’re so used to being greatly immersed in it?
For me it's been non-stop working with many years in the International game and 10 years spent across Cyprus and Greece, then Rwanda and India while living away from home. It has been really nice to finally be in my own house and of course, to be with the family. I have 3 daughters, two of who are in England at Uni while my youngest daughter is still with us at home. We calculated the amount of time I had spent with her and my wife over that period (10 years) and it worked out to be about a year, give or take a month. It has been really special to see her on a daily basis, not to mention my wife who is without doubt my best signing ever!
I left India at the end of January 2019 and really did need a break ( never thought I would say that ), so after taking India to the Asian Cup Finals, I decided that for the next 8 months I would stay home and really spend time doing things I have not been able to do. To be honest, it was very weird at the start as I usually keep my suitcases downstairs, as the longest I'm normally home for is 3 weeks tops, then off again. After 3 weeks my wife asked "are you staying or going"? "Errrr staying", so suitcases went straight in the loft.
Photo Credit: Sportskeeda
Keeping busy is going nicely. I'm really into American Football the NFL and in particular the Raiders (I'm a season ticket holder for the past 6 years ). I also watch a lot of it on the NFL.com channel and of course, follow the draft. The NFL Draft is just around the corner so like the football transfer window, I'm all over that in terms of who the Raiders might pick up and so on. Its such a tactical game and it's amazing at how much the players in the NFL need to learn, remember and execute for one single play. I love it! We (The Raiders) have recently relocated to Las Vegas, so I'm hoping I can get there and catch a couple of games!
Of course, I still love our football and enjoy going to games and watching teams train so while I'm really enjoying being at home, I'm still keeping myself updated in the game. I spent 2 months in England a few months back and had the pleasure of spending the day at Chelsea, where I was able to sit down and experience at how they deal with their loanees. For the first time, I made a trip to St Georges Park, watched a variety of games from Premier League to National League and also went to see the Raiders beat the Chicago Bears, at Tottenham’s wonderful stadium. That's very hard for me to say being an Arsenal fan, but it's absolutely superb!
Recently I spent two weeks watching a 16 team tournament here in Cyprus, made up of several clubs from the Russian Premier league as well as clubs from their 2nd and 3rd divisions. FC Riga from Latvia were also included.
This is also my 20th year instructing for FIFA and they've been sending me to conduct different courses, so my level of activity has been a very good balance.
Having managed five different National Teams, what adaptions did you have to make for the differences in culture, resources and talent available?
Well I actually count it as 6 different teams and 5 different countries, as India on each occasion was 10 years apart!
My personal feeling is as the foreigner, I'm the one who needs to change, not the other way around as some would tell you. But I'm very adaptable and really do submerge myself in the local culture, which I feel you really need to do, in order for people around you to truly accept you. Resources are sometimes not what we would expect but again, it is down to me to make whatever they have work. There's no point complaining 'well in England we do this or we have that', that doesn’t help anyone especially yourself. Find a solution and get on with it.
Talent is everywhere and no matter where I have been, I feel I have always found players that are going to help the team and the country. In India I set up a Scouting Network and travelled the country delivering 2-3 day scouting workshops, so the scouts knew what type of player I wanted for the way we play.
Photo Credit: Thestatesman
Can you try to explain in words how it feels to lead a nation, especially in big matches such as World Cup qualifiers & Asian Cup Finals……….
Immensely proud, to lead a nation is an unbelievable experience and having done so for 5 different countries on six different occasions, it really is special. Each of those countries were different and of course you have the responsibility that comes with that, you are always looked upon as the one with the answers and there is your public image meaning, you must be sure you are always doing the right thing.
Standing in Azadi stadium in front of 60,000 people in Iran, listening to the Iranian fans sing a song before the national anthem was unreal. Playing Japan in Saitama in front of the Blue wall , leading India out at the Asian Cup Finals and hearing the Indian National anthem being sung by the Indians again, you can not buy those experiences.
There are then the moments that only Africa can produce… I remember in Malawi we were in the dressing rooms before a World Cup Qualifier against Morocco, one of the players started to sing as he was getting changed and within seconds, the entire dressing room was singing with him and it was an amazing feeling all round.
In Rwanda we had just beaten Congo to qualify for the group stages in the African Cup of Nations, with 28 people crammed into a mini bus that I am absolutely certain, had a maximum capacity of 20! The bus was rocking from side to side, people had lined the streets to celebrate as this was a major event for us. The lads were singing at the top of their voices and I must say it was very emotional.
Photo Credit: The Daily Mail
I have been so very fortunate to have been a part of some of those moments, moments that I really cannot describe to do them justice. This game means so much to so many people and it is in those times looking back, that I say to myself ‘wow, you was part of that’!
You’ve also coached at club level in England, Cyprus and Greece. What are the main differences between working with National Teams and clubs, what are specific coaching skill sets needed for both and do you have a preference if choosing between working with a club or country?
The first major difference and for me the worst thing about international football, is not having a game the following week. This means losing at international level feels literally like someone has died !!! Although now a days, you do usually get two games in the 10 day window but it really is a terrible feeling, especially if there is not a game for a few months.
Living with that loss is sometimes very hard and of course, the fall out that comes with it. On the flip side, winning is awesome but then the time seems to go by so much faster when you have won. Specifically, I feel it is the day to day of not being able to interact with the players or be able to work on things on and off the field, which can be difficult. I am someone who loves to be on the pitch and will often stay behind, working on things with players. At international level you don’t have time to do that.
Most important traits to work at either level is being genuine and honest with the players. This can be tough to do at times for sure, but players I feel are more likely to give you everything they have, if they know and feel that you are going to look after them.
To answer which I would pick between club and country, hmm a tough one. I really miss the day to day of the club and seeing the players on a daily basis, but representing a country is something else so I really wouldn’t like to say. How about who ever offers me a position first wins !!
What do you think has been your biggest achievements to date and personally, what has been your most enjoyable success?
Tough question. I will start off with my favorite bit about this wonderful game, which is giving the opportunity to a player to make his league or international debut. For me it represents a huge success in that I am starting someone’s career and most likely, he will never forget that moment or the person who gave it to him … let’s call it my legacy.
Photo Credit: The Economic Times
That aside, being Knighted by his majesty the King of Nepal, will of course be right up there along with; taking Nepal to the Finals of the South East Asian Cup, winning the LG Cup in Vietnam with India in my first stint, winning promotion and keeping Nea Salamina in the top league in Cyprus.
Qualifying for the group stages of the African Cup of Nations with Rwanda was special, but I think taking India to the Asian Cup Finals and then beating Thailand 4-1 in the first game, was and has to be my biggest achievement. It is equivalent to Iceland going to the Euros with the difference being, none of my players were playing outside of India.
Looking back on the 4 years I was the National Team Manager for India, I gave 49 players their international debuts and when we qualified for the 2019 Asian Cup, of the 24 man squad ( I actually took 26 players) 23 was the official number, 14 of the 23 were under 23 and 4 of those where U20s. There was one moment during the 4 years that we were unbeaten in 14 international games, something that I am extremely proud of.
There are so many more moments but these ones I feel stand out, although, any time you win an international game, it is a massive achievement!
Your book ‘From Delhi to the Den’ has a number of great stories about your experiences. What’s the funniest thing that happened and what was the most frustrating event to happen?
That would require another book to explain!! Funniest moments, I guess one of them was when I was in the Sudan and I had gone to see the boss Dr Kamal Shadad ( President of the Association) who looked exactly like the boxing promotor Don King. He was sitting behind his massive desk with two huge air condition towers either side of him, it was about 40 degrees outside but felt like minus 40 in his office! After about 5 minutes I was freezing , ‘Dr any chance we can turn the AC down a bit’ I inquired? The Dr bursts out laughing and says ‘Stephenson I am 70 years old, how else do you think I can stay alive in this heat’ !!
The frustrating thing and one which still is, is when I see people at clubs and National Associations who are making a living from the game, with no feeling for it, they don’t love it.
Then you have people who make decisions, football decisions that have no clue and you have to then deal with the consequences of their mistakes or bad decisions. Sadly, this is occurring more and more as the game has grown wealthier over the last decade, with ‘non - football people’ as I call them, influencing the game more and more.
What have been the main challenging’s in your past roles and what are the main lessons you’ve took away from them?
Dealing with the above people! I mean really, it is very frustrating when you are trying to keep your job and make a difference, whilst having people who honestly have no skin in the game tell you that you can’t do this or that. People say managing up is important and yes, I agree with that, but being able to keep 24-30 young men or women happy is not easy and that is the most important aspect. I would do everything I possibly could to help a player, so that they can help me win games.
Main lessons, be honest and be flexible to a point, be prepared for everything. Pay attention to the detail even if everyone around you is not, and the last one… never ever say you can’t.
Photo Credit: Indian Super League
Can you suggest 5 traits that could help a coach in an International Team setup?
Know your country, your new country and behave as if it is your country because for the time you are their National Coach, it is yours and they will expect you to feel that.
Make sure you are seen at games of all levels. It doesn’t matter you are the National Coach, go and see the U17s or local games.
You will need a particular type of player so where and how are you going to find them? I have always used local assistants wherever I have been. They know more than you do, no matter what you think… they do!
Set up your own scouting network within the country and make sure you have people who know what you want. To do that you need to be amongst the people and conduct 1-2 day workshops, to help them understand what you need.
Be humble, respect the people
What opportunities has coaching abroad given you and what benefits has it provided throughout your career? Would you suggest coaches to test their trade abroad?
Being able to see different cultures - I have seen so many things over the years it has been an unbelievable experience. I have been to both Koreas North and South playing qualifiers in both. I’ve seen players dance around a fountain in the middle of the night for luck, been stared down by a hippo in Malawi in the bush and worked with some extremely talented players. I’ve seen the worst and the best of this beautiful game and I honestly would not change a single thing.
Going abroad has been educational and there is no footballing degree or Coach Education course on earth, that could give me what I have learnt. I said I would not change a thing but it has been my experience that while we do gain an awful lot, there can be a price to pay.
I can only speak for myself but once you leave the UK, it is very difficult unless of course you know the right people, to get back in. I had a year at Bournemouth in the academy and a year as First team coach at Millwall and today, I cannot get a National League, League 2, or League 1 club to give me an offer. Of course, we do have many top managers in England that are around and I am not saying I have a given right to have one of those jobs, but I do feel I deserve the opportunity to try.
When you feel that you want to go abroad, you must be prepared to accept no matter what you do unless it is in a, shall we say, respected European league, that you may not ever get the role you want in your own country. As sad as that may sound, it is how it is.
Photo Credit: Sportskeeda
Where do you get your inspiration from and could you share some advice for coaches out there wanting to progress in their careers?
My inspiration comes from a few things. My love for the game, for what it means to me and to so many people. Also, the fear of failing is always with me and what I mean by that is I always have that feeling, if I fail at the team I am with, who is going to give me another job ?
I need to prove to the people who are trusting me with their team that I will deliver, if I don’t, I won’t get another job and that is my motivation every single day I wake up. I am obsessed with what I do and cannot imagine not being involved. This means I cannot fail if I want to stay in the game, and I do, until the day I die, I want in. I am all in every day and as long as I feel that way, that is my motivation.
Listen to people, learn from others as you do not know it all no matter how good you think you are. Be attentive, pay attention to everything on and off the pitch with regard to the team and the staff. Get people who are going to make you better and look after them like family.