THE ONLY ENGLISHMAN TO MANAGE SIX NATIONAL TEAMS: AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN CONSTANTINE
- Rejuvenated Indian football and took national team to their highest FIFA ranking in 40 years
- So respected inside FIFA the President wrote the foreword for his autobiography
- Had a mission to spread the gospel of football inside the austere one-party republic of North Korea
- Once saw a goat BEHEADED to celebrate a goal during his time as Head Coach of Nepal
- Has never managed a club in his native England despite a coaching career that has now taken in 80 countries on his travels
HE'S the only Englishman to have managed six national teams.
Inside FIFA he's so respected the President Gianni Infantino wrote the foreword for his autobiography From Delhi to the Den.
He was chosen to help spread the gospel of The Beautiful Game in the uncharted territory of North Korea.
He's travelled to 80 countries on an incredible career journey and forged a formidable reputation for improving players and transforming teams.
Those in the know from Africa to Asia hail the emotional intelligence and coaching IQ that has left a lasting impression wherever he has gone.
He's a headline writer's dream who once hawked watches and flowers on the streets of New York when he was playing for a host of Greek clubs in the Big Apple.
Oh, and he once saw a goat BEHEADED to celebrate a goal in Nepal.
Yet at the age of 58 Sport Careers Agency client Stephen Constantine somehow remains one of football's best kept secrets.
In a summer when the managerial merry-go-round seems to have spun faster than ever before Constantine is taking stock after reviving the fortunes of Pafos FC in Cyprus last season.
A job offer has arrived from the English Conference but it wasn't enough to tempt this citizen of the world who has bossed Nepal, India (twice), Malawi, Sudan and Rwanda to make the journey back for that long-awaited job in his homeland.
Outside of a stint in Bournemouth's Academy and a season as Millwall's first team coach Constantine - who earned his UEFA Pro Licence 17 years ago - has not managed at club level in English football.
Yet this is a man who in his second stint in charge of India, from 2015-19, masterminded a charge that took them from 176th in the FIFA ranking to no96. Their highest placing in 40 YEARS.
In the fascinating hour I spent talking football with Stephen, though, bitterness is not an emotion I ever detected, Only frustration.
Constantine reflected: "Look, it's great when you can do something with your life that you want to do, something that you love, not many people get to do that.
"I have done a lot of things in my life but never for money, I'm a 58-year-old man with a mortgage which is killing me but that's life.
"I have never chased the money, maybe I should have, but I am Mr Nobody. I am a coach who has to work because I can't afford to be out of a football job.
"This game it is almost like oxygen for me, I have to be in the game.
"Names get jobs and I haven't played 100 games for a football league club or whoever.
"Chairmen are very successful people but when it comes to football and employing their managers, I think it is generally more about who they know.
"I understand that to a degree. All I ask is for them is dig a little deeper, you never know what you may find.
"They prefer to take a big name who has never managed or retired from playing a few months ago or worse someone who was sacked because results were not good enough.
"Yet I love what I do and as long as the people who are employing me want and trust me, I'll keep doing it."
Coaching can be examined through three telling lenses. Process, performance and outcome.
Scratch the surface with Constantine and there is that empathy with players that you feel must spring from his own story of being brutally discarded by Chelsea as a kid despite scoring a hat-trick in his last trial match.
It's a key to his process and Stephen reasoned: "I believe I can make any player better than they are if they WANT it.
"If I was coaching Steven Gerrard it might be small details like timing runs or minute details. Those type of players take that because they want to be the best.
"With lesser players you need to do more for them in order for them to believe in you.
"I've been to the ends of the world as a coach but I have HAD to do that and I will continue to do that as long as I am wanted.
"I don't get jobs based on where I played, I get jobs based on what I have done as a coach.
"I have massive respect for ex-players who want to be in the game, we need them, but a playing career alone should not be the deciding factor to someone getting the job.
"I feel it is really important to care about the players. I have genuine empathy for them whether they are on 20,000 a week or 200 a month.
"They are people who are fortunate enough to get paid for playing football for a living but you must try and look after them on and off the pitch.
"Not all of them are making big money and all of them still face the day to day issues of life and trying to look after the family.
"Whether it is Julian Gray in my past or Jason Puncheon here in Pafos now they are special players but they are also human beings.
"My wife has spent a fortune over the years on gifts for the wives of players who have just had babies.
"That's me telling me them I know they might not be sleeping the best that week and it might affect how they play and train.
"You can't FAKE being genuine, you either are or you are not. I have sat and had a coffee with a player who was plagued by injuries at 33.
"He told me I was the first coach who had ever just sat and talked with him about girls, music and tattoos!
"For an hour I wasn't his boss, he wasn't getting extra favours but what he got was my time to understand him as a person.
"I invest time in the players and my hope is that when I need them to go that extra mile for me in a game then they will do it."
That's the process that sparks the performances of his players but what about the outcomes of Constantine's coaching career?
There are few more startling than the job he did in India the second time around. Of all the projects he has been part of we examined that one in-depth.
He stressed: "I am extremely proud of every single country and club I have managed, although you don't always see the results instantly.
"In Sudan we didn't get the results straight away but laid the foundations for our qualification to the African Cup of Nations. Sadly, due to the impending civil war, I was forced to leave.
"Representing England in any way or at level would be awesome but when someone else asks you to lead their football?
"I think it magnifies the honour of the job. I coached India TWICE and going to the Asian Cup was like Iceland going to the Euros.
"In my opening Press conference there I warned them it was going to get worse before it got better.
"I had been there a decade before first time around and I knew the players mentality and the team was a little on the older side and some players were very comfortable.
"My agenda, though, is always to make the team better and give 100 per cent every day.
"We needed to build a team there and we were no176 in the FIFA rankings. There are only 211 teams in them so it couldn't get much worse.
"The ethos and the work-rate I wanted from the players and staff was set on day one.
"The CEO of the AIFF came to me one day and said: 'Stephen, the best compliment I could pay you is when you walk into the FA offices everyone is on their toes because they are worried you might ask them for something!'
"I am not an ogre but I want to encourage people to do a better job when I am in the building as at the end of the day everything they do in some way affects me and the team.
"My non-negotiables as a manager or coach are the same as anyone else, allow me to decide what players I can work with, who I am going to select, and how we are going to play.
"I can't have people telling me how to do my job, I am open to advice and opinions, of course, but I was hired to run the team so let me do it.
"With players, work-rate and effort cost you nothing and if you don't give me that how can you play?
"I look closely at the structures of teams, the level of the team and who they are playing against.
"India were a poor team and I knew we weren't going to have the ball for large periods of the game so I had to have players who could handle that, some players were more gifted but without the ball they could not keep up so I used players who could.
"From Day One of my coaching career I would say using that emotional intelligence has been my biggest strength."
Leading India to the 2019 Asian Cup Finals is a landmark achievement for a coach who has had two spells in charge of the nation and handed 49 players their international debuts.
The 4-1 destruction of Thailand in those Finals was India's first triumph on that stage for 55 years and the development of that team also saw them construct a 14-game unbeaten run.
That should have been the signal for someone, somewhere to break the mould and hand Constantine that high-profile, breakthrough opportunity at the level his CV commands he should work at.
Yet it didn't come and he said: "Chairmen ask me what I know about the league, I missed out on a job in the Canadian Premier League and the explanation was that I didn't know the league.
"I am honest with chairmen, the reason they are looking for a coach is not because of the other teams in the league it is because their team are not performing to the expectations they want.
"All my career I have been able to come into club or country and find both the cause and the solution to improve on what is happening.
"I can learn about the other teams but I'd rather learn about OUR players.
"What is the problem, what motivates them and so on. Those are the real issues, not what I know about the league because by the time I play the others I will know all I need to know."
On January 2, 2021, Stephen was made Sporting Director of Pafos FC in Cyprus and was given the remit of helping Ukrainian coach Dmytro Mykhaylenko guide the club out of an alarming slump.
They had won one game in 12 and many saw Constantine as a stalking horse for the coach, hovering on his shoulder ready to take his job.
That sat uncomfortably with the principled FIFA instructor and he explained: "I offered to sign a piece of paper that said I would not take the position on a temporary basis and would not be the one to fire the coach.
"The owners sacked the coach four weeks later after a 4-1 home defeat and asked me to take the job for a few games until they found someone else.
"I politely declined and offered to find the next coach and take training until then but three days later they rang and offered me a deal until the end of the season with an automatic extension if we managed to get into the Top Six.
"To do that we would need to win three out of the next three games.
"The owners want the club to do well and will have their own opinions on who can help the team but it is my job to try and get the best out of the players."
In Cyprus the league of 14 teams splits for the season's finale with the Top Six playing each other and the bottom eight fighting it out with FOUR clubs relegated.
Stephen stressed: "There were a few players under-performing as always or had issues as is the case when things are not going well.
"Player A hadn't scored for several months but he ended up top scorer in our group below the Top Six split, Player B and C got new deals and the guy who didn't want to play for us?
"He starred for the team and signed a contract extension. The point here is I didn't know the league but I made it my business to know the player and what motivated him.
"I spent time trying to understand how or what I needed to do to get the best out of him.
"Cypriot football is the 15th best league in Europe and the technical level is high, some of the teams in the Scottish Premier League, for instance, might struggle."
It is a cut-throat environment and starting the season in the abject fashion they had before he came in meant Pafos making the upper echelons was always a tall order.
Stephen's side surged towards it but just missed out before winning the bottom eight shootout.
He smiled ruefully: "It's much harder to play against a team fighting for their lives in my view.
"Here towards the end of the season opposition scouts analysing us couldn't work out how we would play because of our movement.
"At Pafos we can dominate teams and I had players who could move the ball around so we played to our strengths.
"So often now I see coaches following the fad of playing out from the back and they don't have the players to cope with that.
"As I coach, I learned very early to understand what your players are capable of what they are good at and play to their strengths.
"It really baffles me at times seeing coaches try to play the same way as say Pep Guardiola minus his players!
"Even Manchester City have made lots of mistakes playing that way, the Champions League Final was a lesson from Chelsea in how to win the biggest prize WITHOUT the ball.
"There are too many coaches modelling themselves on others because they don't have the courage to do what they think is right, or not really understanding the level of the players they have at their disposal.
"Sure, there are managers I admire but you really need to be YOU and have your own philosophy and a way in which you see your team playing.
"That again depends to an extent on the level of the players. Sure, you will improve them but you need to do it in a way that helps the team, we are in the results business after all.
"I learned from one manager in England how NOT to be a manager and from others how to put team before all else.
"My mentors were those I discovered on coaching courses who taught me how to be a coach,
"We have all seen players getting fast-tracked on coaching courses and that infuriates me, as I feel that they are missing the point.
"Yes, the player knows how to pass or control the ball to one side. The question is can he transfer his know-how to a young player? Can he see what the mistake was, can he correct it?
"Doing the entry level courses for me is essential to the learning how to be a coach process."
As we enjoy a meandering Saturday morning interview about the game he loves Stephen is clad after his morning swim in the Cypriot sunshine in a black Los Vegas Raiders T-shirt.
Despite his wandering around the globe he has been a Raiders' season ticket holder for the last six years and dreams of seeing the NFL games when he can.
It's another singular strand to an intriguing coach and after we ponder that I have to ask the killer question. What happened with that goat?
He shakes his head and recalls: "It was a match between the Nepal FA staff and his Majesty's Palace team who had the Crown Prince playing for them.
"Before the game I had seen two goats tethered behind the goals.
"Now I am social chameleon, I don't judge people so I didn't question it.
"When the Palace team scored they went behind the goal and there was a man in costume there and he whipped out this huge Kukri knife.
"In one shot off went the goat's head and everyone was celebrating.
"I was wondering all first-half why I was on the bench, I was in my late 30s then but I was still running around and I could play a bit.
"So I asked the President of the FA why I was a sub, I was fitter than all of them.
"He told me I was getting in now, I set one up and I scored one to put us 2-1 and our keeper pulled me and said: 'Relax coach, we're not supposed to win this!'
"The other goat had gone to heaven after we equalised and after the game both of them were cooked on a spit and I have to confess they tasted really good!"
For the last two decades Stephen has been an Elite Coaching Panel Member and a coaching instructor with FIFA.
That has taken him all over the world but perhaps nowhere offered more stark contrasts to his normal existence than Pyongyang, the capital city of Kim Jong-Un's one party state.
Stephen stressed: "I went to North Korea twice, I found the people hospitable. I wasn't allowed to go anywhere without anyone with me.
"The second time I went for dinner and I was allowed to take some pictures provided they were not of the President.
"They are not 100 per cent aware of the outside world but if you are trying to live and eat are you bothered by that?
"I had CNN news in my hotel but you can't go on What'sApp or other apps to call outside but I don't judge people.
"I was not there to judge or change the landscape of their football. I was there to help develop the game in North Korea.
"I wasn't there for religion or politics. My religion is FOOTBALL.
"I coached their U16 and U18 National teams while I was there and they have some very decent players."
Today as Euro 2020 plays out on our screens and his native England get ready to tackle the Auld Enemy Scotland a coach less ordinary is pondering what comes next.
Despite all he has achieved I stand by that declaration that Stephen Constantine is one of football's best kept secrets.
He's not finished by a long chalk, though, and the only foreigner ever to have been Knighted by the King of Nepal insisted: "I still want do everything, I want there to be a seventh nation to boss and I want to go to a World Cup.
"The ring-tone on my phone is the Champions League anthem and I want to coach at that level.
"I'd love to manage in England or Scotland and be involved in European football and maybe when I am 80 I'll be a Sporting Director!
"I still dream of the English Premier League or Major League Soccer and I still think one of them will come. I've already done a fair bit."
STEPHEN CONSTANTINE ON THE SERVICE HE RECEIVED FROM SPORT CAREERS
"CVs don't get you the job but you need a professional CV and if you don't have one you get excluded.
"In most of Europe you must submit a CV for the jobs and the best I have EVER had is the one that I have at the moment.
"A lot of thought and work has gone into it and my CV properly reflects what I have done in football.
"Piero and everyone at Sport Careers Agency have done a great job and I now not only have my CV but the four-page brochure which is in its final stages.
"It's as good as it gets for a CV and they have done a wonderful job for me. I think my CV makes people sit up and take notice."