Constantine hails Hero ISL’s ‘universal’ effect on Indian football
Head coach of the Indian national football team, Stephen Constantine has credited the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) for the progress made by the national side in recent times. The 54-year-old from London, who has been at the helm of the national set-up since 2015, spoke about the Hero ISL’s “universal” effect at the All India Football Federation’s two-day workshop for scouting of coaches in Kolkata on Wednesday.
“The ISL has made us universal. It has told everybody in the world that Indians not only play football but we are not bad either, and we have some good players,” Constantine said.
The Blue Tigers have recently taken a massive leap in the FIFA rankings ladder, climbing 31 places from 132nd to 101st. Constantine’s men haven’t tasted defeat in the past 10 months, claiming five away wins along the way and went into their 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers opener against Myanmar late last month having netted 16 goals in their last five games.
A 1-0 win against Myanmar on the day ensured India began their qualifying campaign on a positive note, while also helping them to their best ranking in over two decades. Constantine maintained that while he was happy to see his team climb the rankings, there was still scope to do better. “I would be a little bit happier if Bolivia didn’t beat Argentina, because then we would have been 97th. Having said that, yes I’m happy and we can absolutely do better,” he said.The Englishman believes that competition for places and the reduction of the average age of players in the national set-up have heavily contributed to the recent resurgence of the beautiful game in India. “I don’t think we are dependent on Sunil Chhetri. He happens to be in the right place at the right time, which is why we play him. There’s fierce competition for all places. Now at the senior national team they are killing themselves [for places in the starting XI],” Constantine said.
He added: “We have three or four who can play left-back. We have four-five for right-back. No one is guaranteed. This is the competition we want. There is no complacency in our national team at the moment. I believe we have the nucleus of a squad. The average age is 24. We have built the team to make the Asian Cup, and beyond, hopefully for the next four-six years.”
Constantine also commented on the difference between the legendary Baichung Bhutia, who he coached during his first stint with India in 2005, and India’s all-time leading goal-scorer Sunil Chhetri, who netted his 53rd goal for India in their 1-0 win against Myanmar.
“They both are great players in their own right. Baichung may be a little bit more aggressive. But Chhetri is different. He can play a little bit wider, he can come off the flanks. He can give us different looks if you like. There is a quite a big difference. Chhetri is a player who has been consistent, he is professional. He looks after himself. He is a great leader. We are happy with him obviously but we have plenty of others who are coming up. We will continue to look and search for players who will help us,” he concluded.