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Saturday, Nov 16, 2019

Continuity from Constantine to Stimac helped: Chhetri

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who became India’s No. 1 keeper under Constantine in 2015, said the biggest change he has noticed is how players look after themselves now.

football Updated: Oct 14, 2019 18:17 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
India's team captain Sunil Chhetri during press conference in Kolkata.
India's team captain Sunil Chhetri during press conference in Kolkata.(AP)

India beating the UAE in 2001 in a World Cup qualifier is a red letter day for all those who played in Bangalore that April afternoon but for Renedy Singh, staying at a top hotel for days prior is just as top of the mind.

“That is because it would always be the Sports Authority of India campus in Kolkata or Patiala,” says Singh, a midfielder who played 72 games in an international career that spanned 13 years from 1998. Three or four players would share a room with one bathroom, he says over the phone from Imphal on Sunday.

On Sunday, India flew in from Guwahati where they trained for 10 days, checking out of one five-star hotel to check in to another.

What is the norm today was a radical idea in 2002. Asked where the players would be staying in Jamshedpur India coach Stephen Constantine was shown the main stand of the stadium. “There were six or seven rooms with bunk beds in. Water dripped down the walls. The ceilings were stained. The air was sticky,” Constantine writes in ‘From Delhi To The Den’.

“Sometimes under Sukhi Sir (Sukhwinder Singh) too, we would stay in hotels but Stephen made it a regular practice,” says Singh.

Bob Houghton, who joined as India coach in 2006, introduced more changes. “He got physios, physical trainers and looked into what we ate,” says Singh.

The India team now has two physios, a masseur and an equipment manager apart from the medical staff.

Singh guffaws when asked whether dietary habits were monitored in his time. “At SAI, you and the javelin thrower ate the same food. And there have been times when I have played for clubs after eating chilli chicken.”

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who became India’s No. 1 keeper under Constantine in 2015, said the biggest change he has noticed is how players look after themselves now. “People didn’t take care of things off the pitch all that much earlier because that was not the culture. But now with players having more information, playing with those coming from Europe and having good coaches (at clubs) has helped them get more information,” he told the media on Sunday.

Ashley Westwood, Bengaluru FC’s first coach in 2013, would be among those Sandhu mentioned. “He made me aware of a lot things. I had just returned from abroad (Sporting Lisbon B) and it was reassuring to hear him say the same things I heard there. It helped everyone at Bengaluru and that helped the national team,” India skipper Sunil Chhetri told this paper on Sunday.

“As a senior, I have tried to be strict with young players because I don’t want them to go through what I did when I was young,” said Chhetri.

On his return Constantine, who had used Vece Paes to monitor players’ fitness in 2002, introduced more changes. He got a GPS system to monitor players’ fitness in training and at games. It is now used by all teams in the Indian Super League and some in the I-League including champions Chennai City and East Bengal.

Constantine also got Australian sports scientist Danny Deigan who changed diet that he said was earlier carbohydrate heavy and assessed players every morning and after training. “That emphasis on fitness, rest and recovery has continued,” said Chhetri ahead of Tuesday’s game here against Bangladesh in group E of the 2022 World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers.

Between Constantine and his successor Igor Stimac this is the first time this millennium that one foreign coach and his support staff has succeeded another. Deigan has been replaced by Luka Radman as strength and conditioning coach. An Olympian, Radman worked with Croatia’s 1998 World Cup squad, trained their 1992 Olympic basketball team that won silver and their handball team. Because there has been continuity, players found it easier to train under Redman unlike when Deigan took charge in 2015 and had to provide for “an adjustment period.”

Players have their fat content monitored now and Radman has added quinoa rice to the diet. Like Deigan, he is available on phone and gives players training and dietary instructions during off-season or when they are clubs.

“Redman is respected by the head coach and when players see that, they can’t undermine his role,” said Chhetri.

“I can tell you this: we won’t lose games because players are not fit,” said Chhetri. It has contributed to making India a team that is more confident. Sandhu said a string of good results away under Constantine too helped. So, asked whether his performance against Qatar felt like a dream, Sandhu said: “Well, I expected that we would win the game.”