The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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It is imperative that the AIFF rearranges its domestic calender

Coach doesnít have a magic wand

So itís back to square one Mr Constantine. Expectations were mounting and humbble achievers like us were starting to believe that things are going to move towards the better for Indian football. But with the SAFF Cup defeats against Pakistan and Bangladesh, we are right back to where we were ó nowhere.

The loss against Pakistan hurts all the more, since we never needed a well-paid foreign professional to put it across our traditional rivals. In my memory at least.

Apart from raising questions about the credibility of our new coach, Indiaís performance in Dhaka has exposed the under-prepared state of our football. You have to devote a minimum amount of time to get a team ready for the rigours of international football ó even if itís a low-profile tournament like the SAFF Cup.

I donít think absence of key players can be cited as excuse, since there is no outstanding individual in our ranks. Yes, even Bhaichung Bhutia canít single-handedly make a difference in a team game like football.

But before criticising Stephen Constantine, one has to understand the conditions he has been forced to work in. Did we give him the time to prepare a team' No. Did we do some sort of talent-scouting and shortlist a few to make his job easier' No. Did we take any step to ensure that the players are fit enough to deliver under pressure on foreign soil' Again, no.

In that case how can we just go out and crucify the coach'

The setbacks in Dhaka should teach us a few lessons. One, you canít take anything for granted in international football, even against teams ranked well below yourself. Two, you have to pay adequate attention in preparing your team.

This means you canít pack your schedule with meaningless domestic meets and throw your national team into something completely different in such short notice.

Three, and most important, you have to show a minimum amount of commitment and dedication in preparing a team that will represent the country.

But in spite of doing some good work in recent times, the AIFF has failed in all three accounts as far as the SAFF Cup is concerned. The administrators took it too easy, thinking that simply because there is a foreign coach, there will be no trouble in emerging best in a tournament involving the third-class citizens of world football. The country paid the price!

Now, a few words for Mr Constantine. Itís completely different to work with a team like India, with so many diversities and adversities characterising the task.

One has to first understand the nature of people he is dealing with: their culture, background, intellect and even small things like food habit.

Did he, for a while, pay attention to all this' If no, then he better get down to these things. Coaching Nepal and being in charge of India is as different as chalk from cheese.

In case of India, theoretical knowledge is not enough just because there are so many other factors. He will, in fact, do well to take a leaf out of the book of John Wright, who has never come out in criticism of the domestic structure and kept quiet, even in times of trouble.

I have learnt that Constantine is pretty popular among players and likes to get involved with them while training. He is trying to instil the importance of discipline among them and he has so far enjoyed the support of an otherwise probing press.

Seldom has he been criticised, though there have been questions marks over his selection procedure. With almost everything going in his favour, it seemed as if he is taking it a bit easy.

Criticising club coaches without actually realising the pressure they work in doesnít augur well, my friend. You have to constantly communicate with them, exchange notes, rather than finding faults in their methods.

But I would still say that Constantine shouldnít be crucified for this failure. He needs time and the ideal working condition. Let us wait, at least till the Asian Cup qualifiers and give him all he wants.

Then only can we correctly evaluate whether having him is doing us any good.

Before that, despite failures, we canít dump him or write him off: just because there exist so many chinks in our way of doing things. They canít change overnight. A foreign professional doesnít have a magic wand.

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