AIFF set to offer Constantine contract extension
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) technical committee, which meets on Wednesday in Mumbai, is set to offer national team coach Stephen Constantine an extension of his contract, up to the end of the Asian Cup in UAE on February 1, 2019.
There is less clarity on whether Constantine -- who has taken India to the continental tournament for the first time since 2011, doing so while staying unbeaten in all matches through 2017 and also taking India to a two-decade high FIFA ranking of 96 during the previous year -- would be willing to extend his second stint, which began in late 2014.
ESPN reached out to Constantine, specifically asking if he wanted to continue as India coach if given an extension, but didn't hear from him.
A technical committee member, who called Wednesday's upcoming meeting "break-or-make" for Constantine, said that while Constantine has given results, the fact that most of their opponents have been either ranked lower or not of the quality they are likely to face in UAE make it a "complicated" decision. "If we don't renew his contract and bring in a new coach, we still know the Asian Cup will be very tough. Whoever the coach is, pulling off an upset or even holding some team might be a great performance," said the member. "India getting an exposure at the Asian Cup, there's nothing like that. This is the best an Indian player can get to see. It will be an eye-opener to see where we stand."
Most of the eight-member technical committee, chaired by former international Shyam Thapa and comprising other former internationals such as Henry Menezes, Abhishek Yadav, Ishfaq Ahmed and Prasanta Banerjee, believe not renewing Constantine's contract then would send out the wrong message.
"Given the record, do you have any reason to sack him? If he has got you to the Asian Cup, he deserves to play there. Whether it is Stephen, Venkybhai [assistant coach Shanmugam Venkatesh] or his trainer -- they have all worked for it and you have to give them credit for that," said Ahmed. "Some matches were not that good, but they showed resilience and grit to grind out results on foreign soil too."
For the moment, it would seem the ball is in Constantine's court, as Yadav put succinctly.
"In terms of results, the team has done well. They are unbeaten and have qualified for the Asian Cup, so everything is good," he said. "It now depends on what Stephen wants."
Should Constantine reject a contract extension, two names that are being considered are U-17 World Cup coach Luis Norton de Matos and Bengaluru FC's Albert Roca. Roca got an endorsement over the weekend from former captain Bhaichung Bhutia, who also spoke of Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory and Ranko Popovic of FC Pune City. One of the committee members also spoke glowingly of Jamshedpur FC coach Steve Coppell, saying, "He hardly reacts and is always positive. He's experienced and always knows what he is signing up for. He is aware of where Indian football is, and won't be someone who expects something else and then starts blaming players."