AFC Asian Cup: Stephen Constantine's exit surprises no one

The India football coach resigned soon after the team crashed out of the tournament

stephen-constantine-afc-cup-reuters India football coach Stephen Constantine gestures from the sideline during the group A match against the UAE at the AFC Asian Cup in Abu Dhabi | Reuters

Last night, after the heartbreaking loss to Bahrain in the AFC Asian Cup, when Stephen Constantine told members of the Indian team that this was going to be his last match as coach, there was silence. Not one player said a word.

It is no secret that the players were unhappy with Constantine's coaching for over a year and a half. Therefore, it also came as no surprise that the All India Football Federation accepted his decision to end his second Indian stint promptly. With his contract ending on January 31, Constantine was unlikely to be retained by the AIFF. Had India progressed further in the Asian Cup, the federation would have been in a quandary over Constantine's future.

The AIFF will have to start the search for a new coach soon as the India Under-23 team is set to play its Asian qualifiers in March. Constantine was managing them as well.

While the country's football saw a welcome surge during Constantine's four-year stint which started in 2015, it has also seen the rise of a golden generation of Indian football led by the peerless Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri.

The relationship between senior players and Constantine has been far from smooth. In 2017, five of the senior players had met with the AIFF officials and requested them to change the coach during a national camp in Mumbai but the officials were reluctant to sack him without players giving it in writing, fearing most of the criticism would be directed at them. The players were, reportedly, not happy with Constantine's man-management skills and his technical inputs. It, reportedly, fell upon Chhetri to keep the team together.

To Constantine's credit, he managed to stay on as the coach of the Blue Tigers, despite knowing there was resentment in the team against him.

For the AIFF, parting ways with Constantine was not difficult for another reason—he came at a hefty cost of USD 21,000 per month, all expenses paid. Had India managed to cling on to a draw against Bahrain and moved to the second round and further, Constantine, as per his contract, would have got USD 10,000 per round India progressed.

It is reliably learnt that Constantine is hopeful of a contract with an ISL team. As the national coach, he had, in its maiden season, slammed the ISL and the way the players draft was conceived.

As for the Blue Tigers, it will take some time to get over the heartbreak of the Bahrain match and the last-minute penalty that sealed their fate. The team has the World Cup qualifiers in 2019 to play and would look to settle in with a new coach.