Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


'Indian players are like sponges,' says East Bengal head coach Stephen Constantine

Stephen Constantine spoke about his debut, change in Indian football over the years, and everything in between.

Indian players are like sponges, says East Bengal head coach Stephen Constantine

Stephen Constantine (Source: Emami East Bengal)


Rajdeep Saha

Updated: 2 Oct 2022 7:34 AM GMT

Indian Super League 2022-23 kicks off with Kerala Blasters facing off East Bengal at Kochi on the 7th of October. League debutant Stephen Constantine, who's no stranger to the trials and tribulations of Indian football, will get his first taste of club football in the country as part of the Red and Gold dugout.

"For us, all of the games will be difficult and surely, it will be a tough season for us, given our issues," the Englishman said during a tete-a-tete with the media.

These issues, namely a delay in recruitment and training, are not alien to the historic club. Last season as well, these very problems had an adverse effect on the campaign. However, Constantine did well to embrace these issues during the Durand Cup and came out of it quite formidably.

Prior to the start of the cup competition, the coach had announced his feelings towards his team's participation in it. "Durand Cup for me was four friendly games. I wasn't even trying to qualify for the knockouts. It just wasn't possible with the amount of time given to us," an honest Constantine said.

Debut game

Stephen Constantine will be experiencing the Indian Super League for the first time against a formidable side in Kerala Blasters. Coming fresh from being the runners-up last season, the Yellow Army would want to start off with a win, and the Englishman seemed to be wary of that.

"They love their football down there. We know they are a good team and have been together for two years, which is much better than two months. It'll be great if we don't concede against Kerala, and even better if we score a goal or two," he said.

Signing on the dotted line

Prior to joining the Red and Gold brigade, Constantine was the manager of Pafos FC in the Cypriot top division. However, we could have seen the coach with an ISL team much earlier.

"When I left in 2019, I had some offers. But, I did not want to go straight from national team to an ISL club. Things work in mysterious ways because I was quite happy at Pafos," he said.

After getting the offer from East Bengal, Stephen looked up the new investors in Emami. Once he was sure that they weren't putting their money to lose, his interest was further piqued.

"I spoke to the owners and thought maybe it is the right time for me to come back here. And here I am."

Indian players- then and now

"The Indian player is one of the most coachable players I have ever come across. They are like sponges. The more information you give them, the more they take," he observed.

It was in 2002 when he entered Indian football with his tinted glasses and had players like Bhaichung Bhutia, IM Vijayan, and Sunil Chhetri at his disposal in the national team. Twenty years on, football, and more importantly, the world has changed drastically.

While players might or might not have become more receptive to a coach, Stephen very honestly delivers a verdict about the standard of players and how it has changed since the first time he came to the country.

"We had more leaders back then. I had Ancheri, Vijayan, Debjit, and others who were mentally and physically strong. Now, we do have players but rules have changed. Bhaichung was a nasty player, in a good way."

Art of developing players

The former Indian national team coach wants an all-Bengali, all-under 23 of age reserve team so that it can be a pool of talent which can feed the main squad. According to the shrewd tactician, this is how one develops players.

"In Europe, they start developing players from when they are 10 years old. Here, we are doing it when they are 23. That makes you see the difference between them and the Indian players," he said.

In an anecdote from when he was 12 years old, Stephen drew a picturesque image of the number of matches of football he was involved in.

"I used to play for my school, club, and in the Sunday league over the weekends. At the age of 12, I would play around 70 games. Here, we'd play 10 games in a year," the coach said.

Next Story