Exclusive Interview: Stephen Constantine

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR. “Hi Stephen, thanks for speaking to me this morning at TSF.  You’re currently the manager of Pafos FC in Cyprus, quite different from international football, how are you finding it?

SC. “Firstly it’s fantastic to be back at club level.  I had been a national team manager for quite a long time and it has been a few years since I have managed at club level but I really missed the day to day buzz that you get when the games come thick and fast.  I am absolutely loving being here at Pafos FC at the moment. Pafos FC is a new team in the sense that our Russian owners have been here for the last four years and they are very professional and they are trying to do the right thing. 

The club probably has the best facilities on the island in terms of training, rehabilitation, gym and our training pitches, so the owners are “all in” as we say.  I think when you have that kind of commitment from the owners it just makes things so much easier when you go to work.  The owners are trying to build the club and so far I think they are doing a pretty good job.”

JR.  “You’ve gained huge experience at international level in some unlikely places, not least as the manager of India.  How do you look back on your time managing such an amazing country?”

SC  “I think managing your own national team has got to be the ultimate in football for a manager, and you think all of those things about how it would feel to manage your own country.  When somebody else asks you to manage their country… think of the magnitude of that when someone else asks you to come and lead their country.  It’s a massive honour.  

Both times with India for me were special.  I gave 49 players their international debuts in my last stint in India between 2015-2019.  When we qualified for the 2019 Asian Cup we were the second youngest team at the tournament with 14 players under the age of 23 in the final squad.  Those are unbelievable moments when you are able to give a player his league or international debut, they will never ever forget you.  

I think being able to leave that kind of legacy behind is really special.  We won a few international tournaments during my time including the South Asian Cup, but for me qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup was absolutely amazing because we went up against the best in Asia, and I had the opportunity to pit my wits against top coaches like Alberto Zaccheroni. 

Being at a Major football event does not happen too many times in a career.  Of course winning our opener against Thailand 4-1 was really something else, the boys played so well.  But losing 0-1 to a  93rd minute penalty in our last game denied us a spot in the last 16… but that's football, you don't always get what you deserve.”

JR.  “If India isn’t a tough enough gig, you also managed Malawi.  There are easier jobs Stephen…”

SC  “Ha, yes, well Malawi was quite a difficult job.  They have some wonderful players and of course, that goes for just about any country you go to in Africa.  But Malawi had a lot of problems, they were not doing very well prior to me going there which is probably the reason they asked me to go and sort things out.  I had to deal with a lot of player problems.  The players were not being looked after properly and when players are not being looked after properly, they don't look after themselves.  

For example, we had a dormitory where the players would sleep and when I went in there the players did not have treated mosquito nets.  In Malawi Malaria is a huge problem.  So I went round the Ex-pat community in Blantyre where I was living at the time and where the Malawi FA was based and I got locals to contribute to blankets, bedding and most importantly treated mosquito nets that didn’t have holes in them. 

You can't expect players to sleep in those conditions and of course we had several European based players who were not going to want to come to the National team under those circumstances. 

It was really a tough time from start to finish, but it also taught me a great deal in how to deal with tough situations that we don’t see in Europe.  I must say though that the players for the most part were good, Peter Mponda the captain was excellent, Joseph Kamwenda was a wonderful player too… for sure the talent was there but it seemed like there were issues every day.”

JR. “I think what you’ve described is a stereotypical western view of African football, but I happen to know that you are able to dispel a lot of those views with another job that you took, it might surprise people to learn that for a time Rwanda was a bit of footballing success story, surging up the FIFA World Rankings and all…”

SC. “Rwanda was something special I must say.  It is one of the best countries I have ever been to in Africa without a shadow of a doubt.  The capital Kigali is absolutely spotless and you would not find a single piece of paper on the floor there, the whole place is fantastic.  The people were really good, especially the players.  We did not have any players playing outside of Rwanda at the time, but we went on an amazing run.

To reach the country's highest ever FIFA ranking was a fantastic achievement by the players.  Being able to move to different countries you need to have the ability to adapt.  As a European coming to Africa you are the one that has to change the players and the people of the country that you are in.  You need to bring whatever you have to the table and make it acceptable to the people in the country that you are in. 

You can still play the kind of football that you want to play but you have got to get the players to understand how you are going to do that.  You do that through training sessions, team meetings and one on one's and by spending a massive amount of time talking with players so that I can understand them.  If I can understand them, then I can get into their head, if I can get into their head, I can make them better.  And that’s pretty much how I did it. 

Rwanda was a really good time but unfortunately there were some issues, unfortunately there were financial allegations made against the General secretary and the President.  Sadly for me the situation became impossible and I decided to step down.”

JR. “Stephen I really want to thank you for your time today, It’s really important that we show that football is indeed the global game and not just the privilege of the richest leagues.  As a global student of football, what do you still hope to achieve in the game?”

SC.  “There is plenty left!  The ringtone on my phone is the Champions League Anthem and it is there for a reason.  I definitely want to go into the Champions League.  I would love to manage at a FIFA World Cup of African Cup of Nations or the European Championships. 

I have done the Asian Cup so I think the European Championships or the African Cup of Nations would definitely be on my list.  I would love to coach or manage in the Premier League and the MLS.  These are all things that I have on my list that I would like to tick off, I hope I get the opportunity to do that but in the meantime I am loving what I do at the moment with Pafos FC in Cyprus… I would say that I am living the dream.”

* Stephen Constantine is no longer manager of Pafos FC

James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.