Friday, Jan 18, 2019 | Last Update : 11:15 PM IST
Creditably the AIFF acted firmly this time and squashed the move by the dissenters.
The season of revolt is over. For months speculation was rife that senior players like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Sandesh Jhingan, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Eugenson Lyngdoh were unhappy that national coach Stephen Constantine only focused on fitness and had not developed the Indian team to another level. There was trepidation that when the All India Football Federation’s technical committee met in Mumbai on February 7, the English coach would not get an extension. It was based on the precedent of the U-17 national team last year who got their foreign coach changed by launching protests.
Last year at the same time the U-17 national players had revolted against the behavior and training methods of German coach Nicolai Adams. The AIFF had requested Baichung Bhutia to pacify them but in vain. Hence just six months before the U-17 World Cup, Adams left and was replaced by the Portuguese coach Luis Norton de Matos.
Many felt that it was a bad precedent of player power ousting a renowned coach, whose tough training methods they did not like.
Creditably the AIFF acted firmly this time and squashed the move by the dissenters. They said they would only take action if the players made an official complaint in writing. There was no written complaint. What also worked in Constantine’s favour was national captain Sunil Chettri’s interview in which he categorically stated that all was well and that any misunderstanding between the players and the national coach had been cleared in a frank and forthright discussion between both parties.
Thus the technical committee led by ex-international Shyam Thapa recommended that based on performance Constantine should be retained till the end of the Asian Cup in early 2019. The recommendation was based on two factors, qualification for the 2019 Asian Cup (the fourth time India has reached the final rounds, the last being in 2011) and consistent ranking among the top 15 countries in Asia as per Fifa standings. Thapa and other members felt that the team’s record of 11 wins in 13 games was enough to absolve the Englishman of any existing tactical inflexibilities.
Constantine has also mellowed down. In the summer of 2015 he fumed about not being able to include all players of Indian origin, due to a law that states that players with dual nationalities are ineligible to represent the national team. AIFF president Praful Patel intervened to squash this matter. Constantine now focuses on coaching the national team and does not make policy statements.
Hence the AIFF is reconciliatory but has not accepted the British-Cypriot’s salary hike demand, based on offers from other countries. Instead they have offered him a bonus of $10,000 if the team enter the round of sixteen in the 2019 Asian Cup in UAE and $20,000 if they progress further, which is unlikely.
If the AIFF’s executive committee ratifies this deal, which it should, Constantine’s contract will get extended. He will then be India’s longest serving foreign national coach, two years, from mid-2002 till mid-2004 and then from January 2015 till February-March 2019, so six years in all. The previous best was by another Englishman, Bob Houghton, who was national coach for five years from 2006 till March 2011.