Stephen Constantine: As far as the FA is concerned we don’t exist
By Adam Bate
Last Updated: 12/07/16 4:35pm
What is it like to be an English coach overseas as the national team struggles? Englishman Stephen Constantine is the coach of India and faces the stigma that comes with his home country’s dwindling international reputation. He has strong views on the FA’s failings…
"For all the popularity of the Premier League across the globe, there is a sense that English football itself is outdated, old-fashioned, unsophisticated. The Premier League appeals because it is international, not because it is English. The homeland is no longer seen as a source of knowledge; the fountain head, it is felt has dried up.
"And yet a handful remain, heirs to a tradition that dates back a century or more, pioneers and mavericks and adventurers who have left home far behind to continue the spirit that first drove Fred Pentland and William Garbutt to set sail. Their work is in more exotic locations … Their impact is harder to measure. Their life, too, is harder." - Rory Smith, Mister
Stephen Constantine is frustrated. England have suffered another embarrassing elimination from a major tournament and he knows what happens next. For those within the cosy confines of St George's Park, it's to be a period of introspection. For those abroad, at football's coal face, the reputational consequences will be altogether more real.
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"They find us extremely arrogant," Constantine tells Sky Sports. After spending the best part of 25 years abroad, he understands better than most what the perception is of the English coach. Not that he's expecting anyone at the FA to ask him. "Our FA doesn't do anything to help coaches abroad," he adds. "We don't even exist to them."
It's not just a line. Constantine has experienced it first-hand. He's in his second spell in charge of India and has also coached the national teams of Malawi, Sudan and Rwanda. But when he applied for the vacant England Under-21 manager's position in 2013, he received short shrift from his home FA.
"I put my name forward and 36 hours later I got a reply saying they wouldn't be taking it any further," he explains. "One of the criteria they had for the job was to have had international experience as a manager. Then they appointed Gareth Southgate who has had zero experience as an international manager."
The feeling is that you're either in the loop or you're out. It's a recurring theme of Rory Smith's brilliant new book Mister, the tale of the men who taught the world how to beat the English at their own game. That compulsion to spread football's gospel has always been oddly juxtaposed with the inward-looking approach of England's administrators.
It's not just the lament of a coach seeking greater recognition in his homeland. It's a practical problem for the country. When you're closed off to new ideas, they pass you by. English coaches are simply no longer part of the conversation. It seems football's own version of Brexit happened long ago.
"When you go abroad, the good jobs are taken by the Dutch, the Germans, the French and the Spanish," says Constantine. "Why? Because their FA's promote them. I'll give you an example. In Azerbaijan, you've got 10 league clubs and eight of the clubs' technical directors are Germans. It's something that the German FA have helped institute.
"The English FA don't really put the resources into it. They don't try to get English coaches jobs abroad. Why would you do that? Well, because one day you might need something. Maybe some information or knowledge. When that day comes, the Spanish have someone there, the Italians and Germans have someone. We don't.
"There are so many things wrong with how we approach things. I really don't think we understand what they really think of us abroad. We generally seem to feel that whatever we are doing is the way it's supposed to be and whatever everyone else is doing outside is not. I think that's held against us."
Constantine is doing his bit. The 53-year-old has helped to establish the British Coaches Abroad Association to share ideas, information and opportunities. "The reason I started that is because I know how hard it is to get a job outside and then to stay outside with the issues and problems you face," he explains. "So I thought why not set something up.
"Now, if somebody wants a job in India, people can say, 'Stephen Constantine's there, what do you need?' I had a call last week and somebody wanted to go to China. I know a couple of guys there so I arranged for him to see a couple of training sessions while he's there. It doesn't mean he'll get a job but it alerts other Brits to the network that's out there."
His own work in India is going well. The national team recently won their first World Cup qualifying games since 2004 and tasted victory in the South Asian Championship in January. Constantine has blooded 28 new players in 18 months and succeeded in bringing the average of the squad down from 32 to 24.
Even so, the challenges are vast. "There are states in India that are bigger than the UK and they just don't have the infrastructure," he admits. "I'm taking 12 to 14 flights a month around the country looking at players. I can't just confine myself to the first division and the Indian Super League."
He's found national team players in under-19 sides and even in the army. Next month he'll take them on a tour of the United States in the hope of placing players in professional clubs there. "My job is supposed to be just as coach of the national team but it's about building foundations," he says. "I'd say my job is that of a builder. It's what I do. I build teams."
The trips back home are rare. This month he's been visiting his daughter in Brighton and we speak as he travels up to London to take in a show, the Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre. So is he actively seeking the opportunity to return to the country where he last worked as Millwall's reserve-team coach a decade ago? It's a complex question.
"If there's nothing available for you in England, you kind of have to go outside," he admits. "But if you were to ask these people, a lot of them would like to come back to England given the opportunity." The problem is that Constantine is acutely aware that he is likely to get only one crack at coaching in England.
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With that in mind, he recently turned down a League One job. The assistant had already been appointed, he wasn't allowed to bring in his own staff and there were only seven players. "I felt I'd be doing it with one hand tied behind my back," he says. "To be honest, I think I'm only going to get one opportunity in England. So if I take a job it has to be right.
He adds: "It's a huge issue if you haven't played for an elite club in England. I realised that quite early on. My name's not Ray Wilkins or whoever. I can't go into one job and it not work out then find myself in another job six months later. If I fail in England it'll be, 'Right, you tried England and you weren't up to it. See you later'. That's how I feel."
It's a practical attitude, but it shouldn't be confused with that of someone expecting to fail. On the contrary, the more Constantine speaks, the more it becomes clear that his experiences have left him uniquely placed to succeed. Football holds few surprises when you've seen it from his perspective.
"Given the way that football is at the moment with the amount of different nationalities you have to deal with I feel far better equipped than the coaches who've never coached abroad," he says. "I know what it takes to make foreign players feel comfortable. I had 13 nationalities in my squad in Cyprus.
"How do you deal with that Rwandan striker who can't necessarily speak English and isn't happy? How do you get into his head and get him to produce results? Look, if I can get people who don't speak English to work for me, imagine what I could do with English players." Perhaps that's the sort of imagination that the Football Association continue to lack.