Even though India won the SAFF Cup, qualified to the next round of the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers and beat Puerto Rico, ranked 38 places above, an extension of head coach Stephen Constantine’s contract isn’t a shoo-in. This is because the All India Football Federation (AIFF) could lean towards a foreign coach who has won the I-League.
Constantine’s two-year term ends next February. India play the third round of the Asian Cup qualifiers from March 2017. Should India qualify, it will be a first after 2011 and the third time in 35 years. In his second stint as India coach, Constantine has handed debuts to 30 players since taking charge in March 2015. Of the 27 in the squad for the match against Puerto Rico, 13 were below 23 and three were 20 or younger. “I think we have a squad for the next five-six years,” he said, after Saturday’s 4-1 win against Puerto Rico, India’s fourth successive victory, in Mumbai.
“We will take a decision in the due course,” said Kushal Das, general secretary of AIFF over the phone from New Delhi.
A source in the AIFF said India could play an international between the third ISL and the I-League. That could be necessary should India not get enough ranking points from the win against Puerto Rico to get a favourable draw in the Asian Cup qualifiers. Discussions on Constantine’s future will then start after it. Else, the AIFF could initiate talks earlier, said the source.
What could go against Constantine, according to the source, is that some in the AIFF feel he has chopped and changed players unnecessarily. Just as important could be Constantine’s unhappiness that a preparatory camp ahead of World Cup qualifiers in 2015 had to be cancelled because ISL franchises didn’t release players. A stint as a pundit during ISL 2 may have fallen through because of that.
There was also the issue of Constantine saying foreigners of Indian origin could help the national team, something India doesn’t allow. He made the point again before the match against Puerto Rico. A final sticking point could be salary. Said to be around $20,000 (Rs 13.5 lakh approximately) per month now, the AIFF may not agree to a hike. Currently unemployed, the I-League winning coach could come cheaper.
“Stephen has done a good job but we will need to talk to the other members of the technical committee and the AIFF,” said Bhaichung Bhutia, head of the AIFF’s technical committee, over the phone from Gangtok.