New Delhi: Set to begin his second stint as Indian football head coach with a match against Nepal next month, Stephen Constantine yesterday said that he is yet to decide on who will captain the national team in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign.
India play Nepal on March 12 in Guwahati in the first round of the qualifiers of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and Constantine said Sunil Chhetri would not be the automatic choice to wear the captain's armband in that match. "I have not spoken to Sunil. He captained in India's last international match. But I have not decided on who will captain the side against Nepal," Constantine said in his first press conference after his appointment as the Indian team head coach here.
"All the players will assemble for a camp and then I will select the captain. Anything is possible," said Constantine, who had coached India between 2002 and 2005 also, when asked whether he has spoken to Chhetri after arriving in India. While discussing his vision for Indian football, the 52-year-old Englishman said Indian football was not in the best of situations and the country would need to do a lot to raise its profile.
"We have a lot of work ahead. I will do whatever I can. Of course, it (Indian football) is not in best situation. But I would want to talk more by results on the field than talking about what ails Indian football," he said, while conceding that India has fallen down FIFA ranking ladder from the 109th spot during his first stint to the lowest ever 171 now.
Constantine said he would want players of Indian origin to play for the country by issuing multiple country passports till the time they are with the national team. "I feel some players playing in other countries are good enough to play for India. If these players want to play for India, I would support them. This can happen if the authorities can somehow manage a situation, in which these players can have multiple country passport," he said.
"For example, there is a very talented defender in England and he wants to play for India. What can be done for these players is that they can have Indian passport till the time they are with national team and surrender it once they are out of the team," said Constantine touching upon a topic which has failed to get Indian government support a few years ago.
Constantine, who has got some success in his earlier three-year stint as India coach, mentioned constitution of scouting teams to tap talent all over India as his "mission" for the development of the game in the country. "We need to have a scouting system at the University level, state leagues, I-Leagues and other tournaments. We need to widen the net. No country can progress in football without a proper grassroot and youth development programme," he said.
Asked to compare the standard of Indian football during his 2002-05 stint and now, Constantine said, "You can't compare something 13 years back with the present. A lot of things have happened in between. "No doubt, there have been positive changes in terms of infrastructure also. The ground facilities have improved though the standard of pitches is not yet up to the mark.
What I have said 13 years ago have come true in ISL. Indians are football loving people," said the UEFA Pro Licence degree holder, who also said that former India player Shanmugam Venkatesh, who represented the country between 1997 and 2006, will be his assistant in the national team. He said that he decided to become India coach by leaving the same job in Rwanda as he wanted to take up the challenge of bringing a turnaround here.
"I thought that the awareness about Indian football in outside world has never been this great. So I wanted to take up the challenge. If we don't take this opportunity now, we will not be able to become a football nation," the experienced coach, who has been at the helm of affairs in Nepal, Malawi, Sudan and Rwanda in his coaching career since 1999, said.
Constantine said he has no issues with the squeezing of I-League to just five months to accommodate the ISL, provided there was a set calendar and enough international matches for the national team. "August to May season is OK with me. There will be ISL early in the season, then I-League starts in January till mid May. The players will get break for six to eight weeks for recovery. I think we can work on this," he said.
"In fact, I have sat down with AIFF officials and discussed on calendar which have included national camps and international matches (for senior national team). The only thing we need to have is a set calendar which should not be changed later.
"A player need to get 60-odd games in a year. ISL will have 14-16 matches and then 22 I-League ties. The remaining games could be from other tournaments and international ties. Those who do not play in ISL must play in state leagues which should be held simultaneously (with the ISL)," said the coach.