Stephen Constantine has a worldwide CV, but that is not of enough to interest teams in England
Oct. 13, 2019
Stephen Constantine, the most successful English manager you may not have heard of, has worked in Asia, Africa, southern Europe and America but found it much harder to get a job closer to home.
He once thought he'd cracked it at Gillingham in 2012. Having been given 30 minutes to pitch his case, Constantine spent two hours with chairman Paul Scally chatting about tactics, training and technology before hearing the job had gone to Martin Allen.
'I'm pleased they used a few of my ideas the following season when they appointed a sports science coach,' he smiles with a slight shrug.
Constantine is probably the most unusual manager in the ranks of the LMA. Born in London, he also spent his formative years in Cyprus and America and gobbled up international coaching qualifications after injury ended his playing career.
The Nepalese FA gave him their national team job in 1999 on the recommendation of a US sports agency and so began two decades of globe-trotting, taking him to India, Malawi, Sudan, Cyprus, Greece and back to India again, with a turbulent year in between as first-team coach at Millwall under three different managers.
Constantine, who turns 57 this month, has based himself in Brighton for the last three months, hoping the next chapter of his career would bring him 'home' to England where two of his three daughters are at university.
A leading agent Rob Segal has put him in for several jobs, with current vacancies at Sunderland, Barnsley, Millwall, Southend, Leyton Orient and Stevenage, but he's not even got an interview.
'My agent is as frustrated as I am,' says Constantine. 'I don't know why chairmen wouldn't want to at least find out what I'm like. Graham Potter showed at Swansea and now Brighton you can transfer success abroad to this country. It's the same pitch and 22 players after all.
'I had a cup of coffee recently with a club chairman and he asked how I'd improve his team. You should always look at the academy first, see if you can improve players there rather than having to spend money.
'I also named three players from the Conference who could come in and do well. He was surprised I knew about them and I was surprised he was surprised! I'm a modern coach, I have databases with hundreds of players, I watch football of all levels religiously, I have a black contacts book as big as an encyclopaedia.
'The closest I came to a manager's job in England was Port Vale (in 2015) but they already had a manager in and I didn't want to negotiate in those circumstances. When they sacked him and contacted me again, I'd already given my word to the Indian FA I was going back there.
'Maybe I'm not a big enough name today, I don't know. I do feel my record is deserving of a chance.'
Given his breadth of travel, Constantine would make a good booking as an after-dinner speaker. He's one of the few Englishmen in any line of work who can boast visits to Iran, Sudan and North Korea among 85 countries he's been to.
'The passport stamps can be problematic,' he admits. 'I changed planes in America a couple of months ago on the way to Belize. The guy at Atlanta airport wanted to know why I'd been to those countries. I had to wait until they googled me to check my story stood up.
'I had problems in Tehran once. I arrived at 3am with a letter from FIFA but no visa. The authorities at the airport wouldn't accept it. They put me back on the first plane out of there which happened to be going to Germany. Once I landed, I had to call FIFA and they sorted it out so I could go straight back for the course.'
His wife Lucy has lived in most of the countries Stephen has worked, though she drew the line at Malawi and Sudan.
On her first trip to Nepal, she needed an armed escort from Khatmandu airport because of a Maoist insurgency. His arrival in Sudan coincided with huge protests at the country's leader being charged with war crimes.
In football terms, Constantine is best known for two spells in charge of India, a job that comes with the pressure of leading a nation with 1.3billion people.
'People say cricket is the national game but football is just as popular in terms of interest and participation, it's just not the same commercially,' reflects Constantine.
'When we first went, we lived in Goa. My wife thought it was paradise for the first few weeks but it became hard because of all the travelling I did. We stayed three years and we worked out I was away from the house for two of them.
'There were some "only in India" moments. I remember being upstairs once and heard my wife screaming. I ran down to find the house had been completely invaded by a swarm of frogs.
'I loved India. When they say something is going to happen, they will make it happen, even if it takes a little longer. The players, young and old, are respectful when you walk into a room. When I went to Millwall in 2005, it was a culture shock!
'On my first day, I walked in and one of the junior players, asked 'Who are the **** are you?" Welcome to Millwall! Roy Putt or Putty as he was known gave me a hard time for weeks and he was the kit manager! Every other word was a swear word. I finally got him in a headlock to sort it out and we ended up good mates.
'I remember an FA Cup tie against Everton. We drew at our place and I took the warm-up at Goodison for the replay, floodlights, pouring down with rain, 30,000 there. I stood there thinking this is exactly what I'm in football for. That feeling probably never left which is why I want a manager's job here. The people at Millwall were great but the club was in chaos at that time, different managers, different chairmen, and relegation.'
During his incredible journey, Constantine has rubbed shoulders with the good and great. He befriended Crown Prince Dipendra in Nepal and once tried to enlist the support of Indian PM Narendra Modi to see if Michael Chopra could gain Indian citizenship without living in the country.
'That didn't work,' smiles Constantine. 'Michael was keen to play for India and FIFA rules allowed it because of his family background, but the Indians will only pick citizens and they won't give out passports unless you've lived there.' He returned to India in 2015 and two years later, his local knowledge helped England Under 17s win the World Cup that was staged there.
'Steve Cooper (England U17s manager, now at Swansea) gave me a ring and I advised them best I could. We even put then in the same team hotel as India were staying in Mumbai.
'Originally, England had planned to go to Bangalore but I said the main stadium was owned by the Government and they'd find training would be interrupted by two hundred athletes running around the track at the same time.
'I was impressed by the way England's kids represented the country. It was a sign to me that the culture was changing in England in the academies. Players like Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho were on thousands of pounds a week but there was no aloofness or arrogance.
'Steve took the whole squad out to a regular park in Mumbai where they met the local people and played games with them. It was a fantastic PR exercise for them.'
Constantine, whose award-nominated autobiography From Delhi to The Den was published in 2017, stayed as India manager until January of this year after they'd qualified for the Asian Cup (their version of the European Championship), eventually eliminated by conceding a last-minute penalty against Bahrain.
He resigned hoping his body of work would convince clubs in England to take a look. So far, the plan has fallen on deaf ears. He's spent the last two months watching as much live football as he could, from U18s games to Football League and Premier League. He is slightly bemused by the obsession of teams to play out from the back when it's clearly outside the comfort zone of their players.
At the end of month, he may return to the family home in Cyprus, resigned that a worldwide CV is not of enough interest to teams in England. If that happens, the globe-trotting could start all over again.