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Lack of fitness irks coach Constantine

Calcutta: If you attempt to assess India coach Stephen Constantine, be sure about his philosophy of success. Fitness is the key word in his scheme of things and anybody not fitting in it is simply out.

Taking charge of the national squad after more than three months since the Asian Games, Constantine on Thursday, however, said there is a distinct change in his team between then and now — fitness-wise, at least.

Four of his key players — Bhaichung Bhutia, Dipak Mondal (who was adjudged the Indian player for 2002), Mahesh Gawli and Tomba Singh — are not available for the SAFF meet.

While Bhutia had been ruled out with a left calf-muscle injury earlier, the announcement that Mondal, Gawli and Tomba are also unavailable was made Thursday. Add to this the coach’s displeasure with physical conditions of many other players.

“There’s no point in sitting over it and crying,” the coach reflected. “May be I have to try some new players in their absence,” Constantine said on the first day of the SAFF camp, which got underway at the SAI Eastern Centre.

“However, I’m not happy at all. These players should have been in the prime of their fitness since the National League is on and they have played at least 7-8 matches,” he added.

“At least some of these players should have been available,” he added, with a hidden push to their respective club coaches, alluding that their injuries should have been attended to carefully.

He also lamented that the players are not informed about latest developments in the game — another dig at the domestic coaches. Constantine picked a 25-member squad for the week-long camp, recalling veterans like I.M. Vijayan and Basudeb Mondal.

Arun Malhotra and Covan Lawrence have also been asked to join the camp while Peter Siddiqui, who was originally in the 26-member squad, ruled himself out after breaking his nose.

Vijayan and JCT teammate Jo Paul Anchery (held up in Delhi because of a car accident) and S. Venkatesh (who threw up his wedding reception on Wednesday) are expected to join the camp on Friday.

The coach thought age is not a bar for Vijayan (“players like Donato and Alan Shearer have been performing quite well even in an advanced age”). But he seems to have put a special thought behind Basudeb’s call-up.

With Tomba being out, Jules Alberto and Basudeb are the only two right-footed operators in midfield and if the Mohun Bagan player can seize the opportunity, he may fancy his place in the national team once again.

Burden of expectations

Debjit Ghosh, who will lead India in the January 10-20 meet in Dhaka, pointed out his team would carry the extra burden of expectation. “In SAFF meet, everybody expects us to win. Besides, if we end up finishing anywhere other than the champions, people will brand our success in the LG Cup (in Vietnam) as fluke”, Debjit observed.

“What we got in the Asian Games was basically an under-23 team (with three senior players). But now the team has a good blend of experience and youth and we are ready to give it a try,” he said. He further added the absence of Gawli will be as big a loss.

The defender, however, described the moment when Constantine asked him to lead (late last night) as the “most memorable and cherishing” in his career. “What can you expect more than leading the national team'” he said.

Meanwhile, all players present at practice underwent a dope test and the samples were sent to the Delhi SAI Centre.

In another development, John Barridge, former goalkeeper of Newcastle United and Aston Villa, is set to come here in May to offer tips to the ’keepers.

THE SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Virender Singh, Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, Sandip Nandy, Nasim Akhtar; Defenders: M. Suresh, Sameer Naik, Selwyn Fernandes, Roberto Fernandes, Debjit Ghosh (captain), Arun Malhotra; Midfielders: Basudeb Mondal, Covan Lawrence, Harvinder Singh, Abhay Kumar, Jules Alberto, Jo Paul Anchery, Rennedy Singh, S. Venkatesh, Subhas Chakraborty, Climex Lawrence; Forwards: R.C. Prakash, I.M. Vijayan, Alvito D’Cunho, Ashim Biswas and Avishek Yadav.

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