THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

Stephen Constantine: Time for the Sleeping Giant to wake up

Indian national football team
Indian national football team

Picture courtesy: AIFF Media

New Season! New Coach! New Chant! Add to that a new-look squad, who have the “ability and the attitude.”

This Team India looks different from what it used to be. It is different!

From a distance you watch. The Players meet and greet each other when they all assemble. After a certain time you lose count simply because Stephen Constantine’s squad of 26 have 11 new faces who are reporting to an Indian Senior National Team Camp for the first time. Mind you – a full XI! You go back, refer to history books, start calling up statisticians. Has it ever happened ever in Indian Football? Perhaps not!

At the practice session, ‘high tempo’ isn’t necessarily just another word from the dictionary. The boys run like possessed souls, everyone wants to play his part, the no nonsense Constantine orchestrates. Times change; fast, and how!

“On the field it’s all about the work rate of the Player and whether he is willing to do the dirty work by running all over. Obviously it goes without saying that if the Player doesn’t have any ability he won’t ever get a look in,” Constantine reflects.

You sniff the sense of urgency; the sniff a new belief; you sniff the passion.

I can generally gauge from a Player’s first or second touch whether he fits into my bill or not. I remember picking Climax Lawrence for the National Team by virtue of his first tackle after he had come in as a substitute around the 75th minute in a (then) National Football League match. He came in and won a 50-50 tackle and won my attention. Thereafter, he was all over the pitch,” Constantine reflects.

“You always need to look into his character. If you have 100 percent ability and zero percent character, you are not my Player. But if you have 10 percent ability and 90 percent character, there’s a possibility that you make get a look in into my squad,” the Coach explains.

Easy words, more easily explained. Who says Football is complicated?

At the far end, Goalkeeping Coach Rogerio Ramos is already half an hour old in his video recordings which he implements himself while taking care of the Goalkeepers. He carries his tripod, mini HD recorder and adjusts it himself for the best angle to later study and improve.

The mobile traction, an equipment patented by Ramos himself to “increase the mobility of the Goalkeepers keeps them agile. The traction has rubber tubes tied at the waist and connecting the knees and the hands.

“What is that?” A fan who had come over to watch, quipped. “We only see such things in European Football. Despite Ramos being merciless, his Keepers want more.

Unlike prior, the sessions are not just all about serious stuff. There’s a bit of fun element in the sessions, and the boys love it. If you kick it wide while having a crack, you are supposed to run all the way and fetch it back while the others continue.

Then, the Coach didn’t allow it to end unless everyone hit the goalpost from the top of the box. It was fun and at the same time paved a new road to achieve perfection.

With 11 of the boys having got a look in for the first time, the transition to International Football needs to be seamless. “To make it easier for the boys, I will monitor the U-17s and the U-19s. The philosophy has to be tailored to the philosophy of the Association,” the Head Coach echoes.

The momentum has further been enhanced by then. Going through the routine has been left back, God knows where. The grass at the training ground in Sajusarai is lush green. “It’s super,” Constantine certifies.

The mantra stays simple: ‘Come, Play hard, Win!

“We are where we are in terms of FIFA Ranking. We need to change that. You may be the biggest democracy in the World, you may be the second most largely populated Country in the World; you may be referred to as a sub-continent – but it doesn’t make any difference. So you need to change. And you can only change by fighting, by fighting on the pitch.”

The session ends, the boys walk at the leisurely pace back towards the dugout.

Constantine’s high pitch breaks the silence. “I am waiting. Who wants to be the last man?”

The boys wake up, gather pace and run for their lives towards the dugout. Unfortunately someone had to be last and he got his prize. Guess what? Ten pushups!

This Indian Team is not just about a bunch of individuals, it’s about individuals who stay willing to carry the burden of 1.2 billion people, and their expectations.

The early Morning Sun shines bright, a pleasant breeze blows across as the flags at a distance, flutter.

If we can’t help ourselves, no one would help us. FIFA have helped us with the Grassroots Programme and the Goal Project. But they can’t play for us. It’s time for the ‘Sleeping Giant’ to wake up,” Constantine shakes his head.

(Report & Picture courtesy AIFF Media)