The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Itís time to deliver, Mr Constantine
Constantine has a great chance to prove his critics wrong
Sur Kumar's exclusion is extremely surprising

The Indian cricket team will be criticised for failing to beat New Zealand in the home Test series. For a change, the national football team should also meet with the same fate if it fails to deliver the goods in the Afro-Asian Games.

Anything less than the semis should be treated as failure, considering India have been training under a foreign coach for a while now and that they will be playing at home. Also, the group they find themselves in is clearly easier than the other one.

Having said this, I agree with Stephen Constantine that he hasnít had the ideal time to prepare and condition his team for such a tournament.

Also, some of the players he wants are not available. Itís true that with club football governing the economy of football in almost all countries, it has become difficult for national sides to have all the players they want in a training camp for a significant period of time. Many top footballing nations have complained about this, mostly without any result.

The situation is no different here as the clubs in India look after the financial security of players. So, the clubs canít be blamed if they demand that footballers play for them, denying the national coach the time to work with them for a longer period of time.

Sadly, the similarity with other nations ends here. In most countries superior in football, the fitness level players have to maintain is better than what is needed for the national teams. Which is exactly the opposite here and thatís why Constantine has a point when he says the fitness level of players when they join national camps is below what he expects.

Unfortunately, while the coach scores a point here, there remain questions he will find tough to answer. In all fairness and with due credit to Constantine for winning the LG Cup in Vietnam in 2002, it has to be admitted that under his guidance, India have not been performing close to what they were in the 2000 pre-World Cup tournament with Sukhwinder Singh as coach. After beating UAE in that competition and following the Vietnam triumph under Constantine, the Indians have consistently performed below par. The shameful low, of course, came in Dhaka earlier this year when Constantineís team lost to Pakistan in the SAFF Cup.

The time has come to reverse the trend and a good run on home soil will reassure fans that Indian football can really prosper under this coach who has been given a lot of freedom ó be it in selecting players, criticising our football structure and finding flaws with methods Indian coaches follow. Success will justify all this, but our administrators and the coach himself will surely admit thereís still some way to go.

A decent showing in the Afro-Asian Games, reaching the semi-finals at least, is an absolute must in order to show that what has been said and done were actually prudent and wise. A group comprising Rwanda, Malaysia and Ghana ó with no guarantee on whether these teams will be at full strength ó is just the tonic India needed.

I support Constantineís move to exclude injured players like Alvito DíCunha. He played and did reasonably well under the same coach in Dhaka earlier this year. The coach must have found something wrong with the players this time and though DíCunha is a valuable member, there is no point in selecting someone who may not regain full fitness before the tournament starts.

But I have been taken aback by the exclusion of Sur Kumar Singh. He has tremendous zest and speed and is an excellent attacking defender. I donít know what strategy Constantine has in mind but whatever plan he has, should be based on the kind of players at his disposal. Sur Kumar, in the kind of form he is in, could have been quite a handful.

I have also been surprised by the fact that all this while Constantine chose to stay away from Calcutta, where the major chunk of our domestic football has taken place this season. Being here would certainly have helped the coach in selecting players and he would have gained by interacting with the local coaches.

I have not heard Constantine exchanging notes with our domestic coaches, which I think is an absolute must for the man in charge of the Indian team. Or may be, reports of him meeting the likes of Subhas Bhowmick, Subrata Bhattacharya and Mohammed Habeeb have escaped my attention.

Our football officials, players and fans have been patient with Constantine and accepted his criticism of all that he thinks is wrong with our structure. Some of the things he has said and done is justified but to prove that most of that is valid, he has to deliver.

Yes, the luck factor is there, as is the form of players on match-days. Performance is bigger than all this and itís time for Constantine to deliver. Itís his chance to prove critics wrong and a great opportunity for our players to show they too can do well in international meets.

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