INTERVIEW: Stephen Constantine – Time for a Top Job

Stephen ConstantineFor a man who has more national team managerial experience than any other Englishman since Sir Bobby Robson, it is a travesty that so little is known about Stephen Constantine in his homeland. The referees on his CV read like a Who’s Who of coaching and managerial greats from across the globe. He was one of the first cohorts to receive the UEFA Pro License, the highest coaching achievement in Europe. He travels the world for FIFA, teaching and educating fellow coaches and managers who are also striving for their pro licenses, such is the high regard he is held in globally.

He has managed four national teams, taking in World Cup and regional competition qualifiers; he has also coached at two English clubs and taken the helm at some struggling Cypriot clubs and turned them around.

Yet – apart from the occasional token article here or there (as well as the interest from Stevenage and Gillingham when their managerial vacancies came up in 2012) – Constantine is relatively unknown in England. He is a quality manager. His efforts with hard-up, struggling Nea Salamina in 2011 saw a club on the verge of collapse in the Cypriot second tier just miss out on Europa League qualification the year after. The players he has coached – including Englishmen Julian Gray and Chris Dickson – speak very highly of him and his methods. His work earned him the 2011 Les Rosbifs Manager of the Year Award.

In short, Stephen Constantine is a coach who should be working in England.

Les Rosbifs gave Stephen a series of questions to answer. Consider it a mock interview if you will – for your club. In the bubble that surrounds English football, there would be a real sense of shock if Constantine  was interviewed for a manager role, let alone offered it. Consider this all the background and muck-raking your club needs to do if Constantine is in the running.

His answers may well put his name in the frame now.

LES ROSBIFS: Could you cut it as a club manager in England?

STEPHEN CONSTANTINE: Without a doubt!  What is so different about being in England? They play 11 v 11, the same rules, etc. It’s just different environment.

Look, working in Cyprus and in other countries is not easy. I think every country has its own unique difficulties but at the end of the days it’s about the players, how you deal with them and how they respond to you. Of course there is pressure everywhere you are and you have to deal with that, but I have had the weight of a nation on my shoulders on four occasions. There are few managers who can claim that.

What makes you different and/or better than someone going for the same job who has playing or managerial experience in the Premier/Football League?

I have managed abroad and coached in England. I have managed international teams, participated in World Cup Qualifiers, Asian Cup Qualifiers, Asian Games, African Nation Cup Qualifiers, as well as competed in the Championship in England and the Premier League in Cyprus. I honestly feel that having that experience is a huge plus.

As I said it is all about players. Players will respond to coaches who they feel can improve them as a player. I am someone who takes a great interest in every aspect of the players life. I am there to help him perform, which in turn will help the team and me. I spend a lot of time talking to players and making sure everything is ok – not just at the training ground but at home as well.

I do most of the match analysis myself and that gives me a more specific approach. I am very much into the Sports Science aspect of the game as well and although most of the top clubs are doing this, a lot of teams don’t bother because they think they can’t afford to and yet they can, if they knew how to set things up.

I have connections in most parts of the world and that is something that I use a great deal when it comes to bringing in players. I have access to some great young players that once developed, can be sold on and again that’s income for the club.

Finally, having not played is not a issue and I don’t know how many examples we need to keep listing of the managers who have not played to any particular standard.

What are your qualities? What would you bring to the English game that may not be here now?

First and foremost I am honest and straight with players. I love what I do and it shows when I am coaching, so I would say my enthusiasm for the game. I think in England there are many good managers and I am not going to reinvent the wheel, but as I said I do feel I would be a positive influence on the game.

What do you think is different for a manager of an English club, as opposed to being a club manager in Cyprus, or in charge of a national team?

I think being a manager is a tough job, be it club or national team and I have done both in equal measures. Being an international manager in some ways is a lot harder than being a club manager. You get 3-4 days to work with the players, you don’t have the opportunity to bounce back straight away if you lose a game, and a lot of clubs don’t like releasing their players for international games. You then have to wait 2-3 months sometimes before the next game and if you lose that stays with you all that time. Club football is of course very different and personally I prefer the day-to-day.

There are a great many problems all over the world and of course in Cyprus we have the major issue of players and staff not getting paid on time. That creates other problems, like the players can’t pay their rent, the personal problems that arise from not being paid and so on. It’s very difficult getting players to play knowing they have not been paid and are suffering at home as a result. Last season I had players unpaid for four months; try dealing with 25 players unpaid for that long and we still finished in the top six!

They don’t usually have those kinds of problems to deal with in England; you are mostly dealing with the player’s performance and for me his lifestyle. In Cyprus you have that as well as the financial issues. In England things are, shall we, say more organized and yes of course the problems are there but I don’t ever remember the players not being paid when I was there. Sure, some teams are late occasionally but even then the PFA usually step in and help out. Not here.

One criticism levelled at British coaches abroad is that they “don’t know the system” back home. Is that fair?

That is just a cop out to be honest what system are they talking about?

I have, as I keep saying, worked in England. My day began at around 7am when I left home to drive the hour and half to the training ground. There were many days when I would arrive at home around 11pm and even later if I had been off watching a reserve game or watching another team. This job we do is 24 hours wherever you are.

I think if you are any sort of manager you are all about your club and your job. I think many of the lads abroad would say the same thing. The difference is that abroad you don’t have to play so many games in such a short space of time and there is time to have some quality in your life, whereas in England there never seems to be enough hours in the day.

Another criticism aimed at you when your name has been mooted for a job (for example, the Gillingham and Jamaica vacancies) is that you “haven’t stayed anywhere long”. Is that fair?

I think for National team managers the average life span is 12-18 months and in all four of my jobs I managed that.

India was a three year deal and I saw that out. In fact I was offered an extension with less money which I politely declined. I was in Malawi just over a year. In Nepal I left after two years and that was in part to the FA being suspended by FIFA and the Maoist rebels were causing problems for the local government. I thought it was better to take the family home rather then get kidnapped.

In Sudan I was forced to leave after a year. A few days after I arrived in Sudan I was told by the British Embassy not to attend the World Cup Qualifier against Mali with Fedrick Kanoute and co at the  Mereekh Stadium in Khartoum, because an arrest warrant was going to be issued by the UN against the Sudanese Prime Minister. Fortunately we drew 1-1 and there were no problems.

Returning back to the family home in Cyprus in the January, I signed a short term deal with APEP, which was for the remaining five months of the season. They were pretty much relegated at that time but it was an opportunity for me to work and coach in Cyprus. Then I took over Nea Salamina, where I stayed for two years which is a long time for Cyprus!

My next job was Ethnikos who I joined in December 2012 and they also offered me a deal until May. The reason most teams don’t offer 2-3 years deals (Salamina was 1 year deal, then they asked me to renew for another year) is because the managerial turnover is such that if you have signed a 2-3 year deal they will have to pay up! When you get the boot, which is more likely than not, it’s not the right way as the manager needs to be secure. However there is not a lot you can do, other then say “no” in which case you don’t get the job! I left Ethnikos after the players were unpaid for four months, and when I left I was their third manager in the season. If things were right I would most likely still be at Salamina.

Would you represent a gamble to an English club?

I don’t think so. No more than anyone else.

Some recent appointments have been ex-players with no managerial experience! Is that not a risk? Or some managers who have never coached in England and yet are managing there, because they were a name. The ‘Let’s get a name’ process of selecting the manager is amazing really; amazing in that some people think it actually works. Surely you want someone who is driven, who needs to succeed to get his next job?

Yes it does work at times but how many big names have failed? It makes me laugh when you see some managers who have failed on several occasions and they still get another job down the road. How does that work? Is that not a risk?

How would you take any initial backlash from fans if you were appointed manager of a club here?

Why would there be any backlash? Like any appointment some fans would say, “Well I wouldn’t have signed him.” Some others might say let see what he does and at the end of the day the English fan most definitely  would get behind the club and support me until I had won them over.

Would you envisage difficulties with players here if appointed?

I think it’s the same wherever you go. You need to prove yourself where ever you are and of course in your training sessions and your work. The players will accept you if they feel that you are going to help them improve. The players are professional and I am sure they would be fine.

Does it bother you that the average English fan/journalist/player hasn’t heard of you?

No not really. I only had a couple of years coaching in England, so it’s no big deal for me. They know me pretty much everywhere else!

Let’s say you get the job as manager at a British club. What would you aim to do in the first six weeks?

Win all my games!

I think that is a tough question to answer; there is a great deal that goes into the job and such a lot to do. Usually when a manager is replacing another manager it’s because something is not going right according to the Chairman and so you need to address that to start with. I do feel that I am more than capable of dealing with problems, operating on less than a shoe string. If you look at most of my jobs, both at club and national team level, they have all been jobs where I had no money to spend on buying players, and with little or no resources.

So every club is different, but I have always left the club in a better state than when I arrived.

Name: Stephen Constantine
Date of Birth: 16th October 1962 (50 years old)
Birthplace: London
Present club:
Previous clubs: Achilleas, APEP, AFC Bournemouth, Millwall, Nea Salamina, Ethnikos
Previous national teams: Nepal, India, Malawi, Sudan