Thursday, March 11, 2010

Round The World He Goes: Stephen Constantine, Manager

There are certainly a whole host of coaches that spend their entire careers in their home country, not venturing far and enjoying varying degrees of success. Failing to cross borders however is an entirely foreign concept for Stephen Constantine.

The 47-year-old England-born coach's resume reads like the itinerary of a fascinating trip to exotic lands, but though he may be something of a football nomad, this is a manager who has enjoyed success wherever he has travelled. A serious knee injury ended Constantine’s playing days quite early (he was 27), yet he was able to transform that disappointment into a positive and make his mark as a top-level manager.

Stephen Constantine.

Having coached four national teams including Nepal, India, Malawi, and Sudan, Constantine's views on the world’s most popular sport are quite interesting to say the least. Now in Cyprus as boss of APEP FC, Constantine is excited to be back to the daily grind of club coaching, though the club's current situation is quite difficult as APEP were recently issued a points deduction and have been condemned to relegation to the Cypriot 2nd division for next season.

This has not dampened Constantine’s spirit though. Speaking on his personal website, Constantine stated that he was looking forward to the challenge of rebuilding the team and returning it to the 1st Division.

Though he may have seen it all in his travels coaching football, this is a man who has an unquenchable thirst for the game. He describes himself as a firm believer in constantly improving his knowledge and skill. This desire to learn has helped Constantine succeed and the former Chelsea schoolboy player has made a habit of taking over struggling sides, making them competitive and in some cases winning trophies. Even when conditions have been sub-standard and the support not quite where it should be, Constantine has managed to overcome the numerous obstacles by focusing on the task at hand.

One Game, One World was lucky enough to have Mr. Constantine sit down and answer some of our questions. His views on the way the smaller teams in world football are treated are honest and eye-opening. Constantine’s insight into football at every level are a must-read and his experiences are refreshing. Read the interview below on a coach destined for more success in the future regardless where the football winds take him.

Stephen Constantine

One Game, One World: Tell us about your youth and playing career.

Stephen Constantine: I had spells at Chelsea and Millwall as a schoolboy and then at 17 signed for AEL in Cyprus before heading over to the USA. I played for the Pennsylvania Stoners in the ASL and for New York Pancyprians before an injury ended my career at 28.

When did you realize that you wanted to get involved with coaching?

I was about 26 and had coached a few youth teams and was helping out here and there and realized that this was what I wanted to do once I ended my career. I had already taken youth coaching courses so when I had to stop at 28 I had already began the transition.

What was your first job as a manager? How did you do?

I had spells with Apollon and AEL youth teams, but my first job in sole charge was at Achilleas Ayio Therapon and I managed to keep them in the 4th Div, they were in last place when I took over and 12 points adrift so it was a tough job, with most of the players older than me ! I was 29 years old.

How did you enjoy your time in Cypriot football?

Like everything else there’s good and bad stuff, I won the Youth Cup with AEL at U16 and that was an amazing time, several of those players went on to the senior team and National teams as well so that was very pleasing. Keeping Achilleas in the league was also good, as for the bad well we are talking about 11 years ago so I have managed to forget the bad things!

How did you get into the running to become national team coach of Nepal?

The English FA recommended me as well as a number of others and the Asian Football Confederation picked me from the list of about 25 others. They then sent the list to the Nepal FA and I guess they liked what they saw.

Did you enjoy that experience? Under what conditions did you work there?

Fantastic experience and the people of Nepal are wonderful; we had a great time on and off the pitch, truly a memorable time. Conditions were tough as you would expect from such a poor country, but as someone who is adaptable you just get on with the job at hand.

Was your time as India national team boss successful? What is the football potential of this country?

Yes it was, we won India's first trophy in 42 years and did very well at all levels in my time there. Potential is there, it just needs a little more time and some things need to be changed. We often had crowds of 60,000 at our games and against Japan in a World Cup Qualifier we had 100,000, so that should tell you everything.

How did you find the Malawi job?

Very difficult, people did not look long term. Everything was if we did it today fine if not then never mind, no planning at all.

Can you describe the infrastructure there for football?

It was almost nil to be honest, as I said no one wanted to look ahead and although there are some great players they are let down by corrupt officials and it’s a great shame as there are some people who want to work but just not allowed.

Explain the process of you being selected to be manager of Sudan?

Sudan came as a result of my FIFA work where I had done some courses a few years ago, and when they were looking for someone to step in I got the call.

Considering what has been happening in Darfur and other parts of the country, what are were working conditions like?

They were ok to be fair and we had most of what we needed, of course there were problems but that’s part of life. The people in Sudan are very warm and really did support me in my time there.

How would you rate Sudanese footballers?

Some great players, it’s the same all over Africa and Sudan is no exception.

Was it difficult to work with the Sudanese government? How was your relationship with the government and the Sudanese FA?

Excellent and excellent. I was dealing with both obviously. The FA was who I worked for and working for Dr Kamal Shadad was great for me, he is a great man and it was sad for me to leave. As for the government again my dealings with them were excellent and I can’t complain.

Do you enjoy the globe-trotting you have done as a football manager?

Yes, I love it !

Do you prefer coaching at the national team level or at the club level?

I would say club level as I am involved every day and really do enjoy that as opposed to a game every few months.

Are there any other places around the world you would like to coach in?

Yes, I would love to coach in South America and Australia that would mean I would have coached in all six continents.

Stephen Constantine

Is there a dream job that you haven’t landed yet?

LOL, plenty of them, it seems I do get offered the really tough jobs that not many others want, but am happy to be working in the game and love what I do so as long as I have a team and am working just about anywhere is ok with me.

How long do you plan on coaching?

As long as I still have my love for the game, which is I guess until I breathe my last breath. Hopefully I have a few more years in me as there is plenty of things I would like to achieve.

What career goals have you succeeded in achieving? What remains for you to achieve?

Every job there is a new challenge, if you asked me 12 years ago would I have coached 4 National Teams, won trophies with them and seen some great games, become a FIFA Instructor, I would not have believed it possible.

Getting honored by the King of Nepal was special and unexpected to say the least and I hope there are more special moments to come.

Who is a coach/manager(s) that you style yourself after or have always admired?

There are many coaches that I look up to and have had the pleasure of meeting a few of them. I think I have my own style and as someone who is always trying to improve I think that will always be the case. So a little something from many of them I would say.

Who are some of the best players you have coached over the course of your career?

Well, that's a difficult one to answer there have been some many to be honest though perhaps not well known for people in Europe.

Can you name some of players that you admire from world football?

Patrick Vieira, Fernando Torres, Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, the list is endless.

What are the biggest challenges that some of the smaller nations face at the international level?

Being treated fairly by match officials, it is always the case that the bigger teams get more breaks than the smaller teams and this is a problem. Games should be officiated in the same way no matter who is playing.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Well I would like to think coaching in a top league in Europe.

If you were handed the power, what changes would you make to football, either at international or club level?

First thing I would do is have instant replay to help the referees, it’s done in so many other sports it’s about time we have it in football.

If a referee, coach, club official, or player is caught gambling or cheating in a game he should be banned for life. Players who ask for other players to be sent off should be shown red cards.

Make the Champions League for the champions of each European league, and have the Europa Cup for the 2-3 placed teams. I would also add a European Cup Winners’ Cup for all the FA Cup winning teams as well.

In all major club and international competitions throw all the teams in the hat and have teams come out naturally, no more seeded teams to help the bigger sides not meet each other, it’s so stacked against the so called little teams it’s not fair.

Where will the next generation of great footballers come from and why?

Africa, they are hungry and football is the only way many of them can feed their families and when you have that motivation anything is possible. The other reason is in Europe we coach the life out of the players from an early age.

How do you see the 2010 World Cup shaping up? What will be the quality of the football on show?

Africa deserves the World Cup and I am hopeful that they will do a good job, of course there will be problems but FIFA are working very closely with the powers that be so that if there is a problem they will hopefully be in a position to sort it out early.

Will African teams perform well do you think?

That's the question I think a lot is being made of, the African teams doing well and it remains to be seen. The teams that qualified for the World Cup didn’t have such a great showing in the recent African Nations’ Cup so we will see.

What qualities are needed to be a football coach at the highest level?

An in-depth love of the game and understanding of the human mind is for me key, an awareness of everything around you. Technical knowledge, recognizing the need to have a quality back-up team from the assistant to the physiotherapist is also key to your success.

Having attained your coaching qualifications are now a must but it's a lot more than that and your personality is also something that must be right.

What changes in tactics and formations have you seen over the course of your coaching career? Any major shifts you have noticed?

This does make me laugh sometimes as we see on TV all these wonderful permutations of a 4-4-2 suddenly someone says no it's a 4-1-3-1-1 or what ever seems to be in fashion at the time.

Of course we have what are now called the standard systems such as the 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 3-5-2, 5-3-2 and you can always effect those systems by pulling a player deeper or pushing him more forward.

At the end of the day it's about the players you have, can this player get up and support the lone striker? Does the defensive midfield player got the qualities to play that position? If a coach knows the game and gets the players to implement what he wants from the particular system then does it matter what system you play?

It's all about the players you play in the system you want and of course the information the coach is able to give to the players.

Why is football the most popular sport in the world?

For me "because on any given day anyone can beat anyone else." Unfortunately, we are losing sight of this as I said before the bigger teams are always kept apart in the draws be it club or international level and if there is a 50/50 decision against a small team the bigger side will get the advantage, that needs to stop.

What does football mean to you?

EVERYTHING, it's my life.

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