Dubai: India are currently at their lowest ever position in the Fifa world rankings, placed 173rd, but new coach Stephen Constantine believes he can get the Blue Tigers back into the top 100 for the first time since 1996.
The 52-year-old Briton was an obvious choice to lead the turnaround, having not only managed India before from 2002 to 2005, but having also led Rwanda up 22 positions from 90th to their highest ever position of 68th last year.
He is now looking to replicate that success with India by overcoming the logistical issue of uniting 29 states across a vast landmass, which is home to a billion cricket-loving people, without the infrastructure or resources for football.
“We are never going to be in this position again under my rule that’s for sure,” Constantine told Gulf News. “I would like to break into the top 100 and I think we’ve got the talent in the country to do that, it’s just we haven’t been looking in the right places.
“I’m in the process of setting up a scouting network across all 29 states using my former India players as scouts. They understand the mentality of our system and we want to find players who fit the particular style and brand of play that suited us back then, and it didn’t do us any harm against Nepal.”
Constantine’s India beat Nepal 2-0 on aggregate last month in the first round of AFC qualifiers for the 2018 Fifa World Cup. That victory put them through to the second round, where they now face an eight-match group challenge, which is just the sort of regular competition the national team has lacked.
“We need to start winning matches, but aside from that it’s the things we do in between games that are critical. We’ve brought in a sports scientist and video analysis, which we’ve never had before. They used to train once a day but with me they will train twice a day.
“I will use to the maximum all the things I have at my disposal. We may not have a lot of money, but sometimes it’s not about the money, it’s about getting the best out of your players and I think that’s one of the things that I’m capable of doing at any level.”
With India set to host the 2017 Fifa Under-17 World Cup and having qualified for the Asian Cup for the first time in 27 years in 2011 under fellow British coach Bob Houghton, Constantine added: “There have always been things to suggest that the future is bright for Indian football, it’s just we don’t seem to maintain it.
“If you go back 10 years, there has been a lot of improvement, but then you look at youth development and see we still don’t have Under-17 or Under-19 leagues. We’ve moved on in certain areas but not in others.”
Constantine, who has also managed Nepal, Malawi and Sudan, said previous experience managing India would also stand him in good stead.
“It’s a huge advantage for me as I don’t need to spend the next six months to a year finding out what’s going on. It allows me to hit the ground running, whereas someone who had not been here before would still be trying to find out where he could make an inroad,” he said.
“I had come to the end of a three-year contract and they had offered me an extension,” he said of his first tenure with India. “But I felt it was the right time to move on. It’s always good to leave on good terms but it’s even better when you get called back because it means you left something behind and I intend to leave something this time too.”
If this were a national team starting from scratch, Constantine, whose own playing career in the US ended through injury aged 26, said he couldn’t be better suited to the role of rebuilding.
“All my jobs have been like that. It’s very difficult for someone like me, who didn’t play at the highest level, I’ve always had to move about, not always by choice, and it’s always been to jobs where not too many people would have gone.
“It seems I’m given jobs others don’t want or are afraid to try. But I do love a challenge. I love to build things and put the foundations in place and see young players come through, that for me is progress.
“There is an element of ‘OK I can come in and sort this out’, but I don’t know what I’d do if it was a club or country that didn’t need sorting out.”