The Stephen Constantine Column: The value of coaching experience

  • Exclusive insight from the only Englishman to boss SIX National teams
  • Looks in-depth at his own coaching journey and how he has evolved
  • Studies the peaks and troughs of life in the profession after a tough spell out of the game
  • Always thrilled by the development of young hopefuls into the talents they can become
  • Believes in the human touch that ensures lasting bonds with players he coached 15 years ago

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE...and taking an Msc in Football Directorship to keep

There is no substitute for experience.

I first decided I was going to coach when I was a player at the Pennsylvania Stoners in the States.

We did these Academy sessions when I was 19 and I loved the way we could help someone and make them better at football.

I started showing them how to pass more accurately and got a kick out of that and I eventually progressed to working at University level in America at CW Post on Long Island in New York.

I still get such a buzz seeing young players improve.

That year at CW Post as an assistant after my playing career sadly ended at 28 was my first stop as a coach and by then I already had my USSF certificates.

I then took my English equivalent doing the Preliminary then the Intermediate and topped it off with what was then called the Full Badge which has pride of place in my office at home in Cyprus to this day.

My UEFA conversion was followed by the coveted UEFA Pro Licence which I passed in 2004.

It has been a tough and costly journey but worth it and I am not finished learning just yet.

The thing with experience is everybody has some in different areas, and at times on different levels.

No one, no matter what experiences they have, knows all the answers and that experience will tell them that they need to try to find a different solution.

Your experience in your particular field, though, should mean you deserve respect and the opportunity to present yourself in the correct way.

Being open to new ideas, the new trends in technology and how data is gathered for analysis whether that be on players or staff.

How are players assessed in today's game? How to compare levels when players are in different leagues.

These are all things that we need to be able to understand and deal with if we want success.

Yet now, as a 59-year-old coach ready for the next challenge and after a year out of the game, I would tell those looking for the right hire, dig a little deeper.

Make sure you have done your research on the coaches' previous jobs, make sure they have what you need and have a proven track record.

So many appointments these days are made on the basis that they are young and up and coming which is great but when the club are in trouble on or off the field is that the right hire?

Do they have the experience to deal with a dressing-room with many different nationalities and can they convey the message to the whole group?

Personally, being willing to learn from anyone, anywhere, and at any time is my mantra. I am definitely not too old to be told or educated.

I have a thirst for knowledge that has never dissipated, this week I have been accepted by East London University to take a Msc in Football Directorship.

My experience doesn't mean it is my way or the highway it just means I have been down the highway a few more times!

Most of the experienced coaches I know understand that learning never ends and either you respect that and adapt or you will be out.

My key experiences at club level in Europe and at National team level in Africa and Asia did not come from any of the UEFA courses I have taken.

Being placed under extreme pressure and in very difficult situations helped in my growth both on and off the pitch.

It has taught me how to go into a dressing-room in the Sudan and command respect from the players, how to convey my thoughts and feelings to Indian players. You cannot buy this.

Dealing with all of this and then coaching the teams and the players, especially when the team is not doing well, is all to do with the feeling you have for the game.

It's about the empathy you need to have with both players and staff alike that is paramount to success.

There is not too much now that I have not seen or done in this game and I feel that is a plus and should be used and taken advantage of.

At every national team I have managed I have insisted on coaching the U23s or U21s where possible at no extra cost to the team as I want to see the young players who could help us.

I did this to ensure the players coming up had the same philosophy as the senior team and any program's biggest assets are going to come from the Academy.

Coach educators like Les Reed, John Peacock, Martin Hunter, Robin Russell and many others have made me a better coach.

Back home in England I was able to grow through the English FA coaching badges and coach education courses, I was and still am always trying to get better.

I have also completed all of my coaching badges in the USA and would like to take the Pro Licence over there as soon as I have the opportunity, out of respect for the coaches there and their system.

During my time managing international teams and clubs I have also played the role of Sporting Director without ever calling it that!

I'm fascinated by the medical side, the scouting, and all the other departments. At Pafos we set up match analysis in the dressing-room at half-time which is something that had never been done before in Cyprus.

The Football Directorship course is something I would have done even if I wasn't out of the game as it covers many facets of the game that I have already worked through at various times in my career.

This is my longest spell out of football and while I've had offers from some clubs in Cyprus and around the world the right project has not yet presented itself and so I wait.

Money has never been my motivator in this game, I am more interested in the project and how I can build and improve programs.

Before the pandemic struck I had accepted a role that would have seen me be Sporting Director for five different clubs with a particular group.

My remit was to travel to Brazil, Senegal, Latvia, Cyprus and Russia and scout Under-23 players before bringing them together in international breaks to showcase them.

It was a compelling project but then COVID hit and that fell through.

Then the chance to be the Sporting Director came up with Pafos FC and it was a great opportunity for me to get involved in the other side of the game.

After the owners sacked the coach, I was asked to take the team through the to the end of the season with the remit of keeping the club in the top tier.

I did well in my seven months as the Head Coach at Pafos FC but my contract wasn't renewed despite winning 12 of 18 games and avoiding relegation.

We had won one game in the previous 11 before I took over as Head Coach and we not only avoided relegation but won the eight team league - the league splits into a top 6 and a bottom 8 in Cyprus - finishing with the highest number of goals, points and wins in a season.

I was told that a new Sporting Director would come in and decide my future.

I never actually met or spoke with the Sporting Director but was told several weeks later that the club wanted someone with experience in UEFA competitions.

We had not qualified for any of the UEFA spots. In Cyprus you need a finish in the top four or to win the Cup for that to happen.

Naturally, I was disappointed with the decision. I felt that I had done well, I had gone in completely alone, I was not allowed to take any staff as people were already in place and I did my job.

The new coach finished sixth and was sacked two games before the end of the season.

And, no, they didn't win the Cup and they are not going to play in Europe this season either.

One of the best moments for me, though, was giving a 15 and half year old his league debut.

I am very much inspired by development and my attitude is if they are good enough, they are old enough.

Honestly, I feel that I should have been given the opportunity to carry on from where I left off.

We had a great atmosphere in the camp, a few additions in the summer and I am very confident I could have taken the club into Europe.

Sadly, though, in football and you don't always get what you deserve and so onto the next project.

The timing of all of this wasn't great, two weeks before pre-season and I was out of a job.

I have missed out on a season. It is killing me physically, mentally and of course financially but I love this game.

All the good and the bad of it, this is the life of a coach.

It's very frustrating, I have had eight or nine maybes, one or two offers but either the job was not right for me or I was not interested in the club or National team.

I have had interviews and presentations. There has been interest in India, Singapore, Australia, the USA and several other countries.

Before I meet the club, I like to go into detail working through the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Targets of clubs or programs.

That's my interpretation of a SWOT analysis and I believe in the depth of study in work like this.

Like any coach out of the game you wait for that call and try to be as prepared as possible when it comes.

After a while out you begin to wonder is it age, personality, do they feel that because of your experience you would want too much money perhaps?

You can start to question yourself, perhaps you are not as good as you think you are?

A guy called me recently and described me as the Brian Clough of Cyprus.

His words were: "You are the best coach the Cyprus National Team never had",

I replied the difference is I didn't win two European Cups or the English title!

I am one of those people who will say things that I feel will help you and the club from my perspective.

I will try to give a subjective response a reason if I am aware of it as to what has gone wrong then the ways we can improve things.

How we can do that in order that the owners and the club can get what they want?

In my time out I have done a course in Ethiopia for FIFA and I have done some presentations for clubs and national associations but it is not what I want to be doing.

I am watching tactical trends, changing formations, analysing games and keeping abreast of all things football and I am still looking to learn and improve myself as you do.

You have to remain true to yourself and be empathetic with your players always because they may be suffering as people away from your training environment.

I take pride in the relationships I still have with players I coached 10 or 15 years ago and it's great when a player calls you up and says: "Coach, where are you? How are you doing?"

I find that if you are honest and up front with the players they will give back on and off the pitch.

All you need is a chance and I can't change the fact that I am experienced.

I just need someone to value that commodity and not be scared of it.

*STEPHEN CONSTANTINE is the only Englishman to have bossed SIX national teams and a long-time Sport Careers Agency client.

Nepal, India twice, Malawi, Sudan and Rwanda have all benefited from his worldwide football experience.