KARACHI: Stephen Constantine’s first virtual news conference since being appointed Pakistan head coach started with a conversation that the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee would’ve liked to keep private.
Waiting for reporters to arrive on Friday, there were discussions on NC chief Haroon Malik, the state of Pakistan football and the offers Constantine has.
PFF NC’s social media manager Hasnain Haider forgot to mute his microphone and the conversation between him and Constantine was overheard by those who’d logged in early. That part, of course, was deleted by the PFF NC when it shared the video officially.
It did make for interesting hearing, making clear that Constantine will only stay on as Pakistan coach if they were to advance to the second round of qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
To do that, they need to beat Cambodia over two legs starting with the first game in Phnom Penh on Oct 12 with the return in Islamabad five days later.
Constantine told Haider that he has offers from Major League Soccer in the United States, and “it is difficult to say no”. But he was drawn to the project in Pakistan.
That, though, wasn’t the best bit as a revelation was to come. Hasnain — whose appointment has come under fire for nepotism — said he’d been working with Haroon for the last five years.
He would go on to add: “Although he [Haroon] doesn’t have a football background, he’s very invested.”
For all his appointments as PFF NC chief, though, Constantine seems the best investment Haroon has made.
A coach with a clear playing philosophy is what Pakistan needed, although the well-travelled Englishman said it would be a challenge.
“The most important thing is for the players to understand their roles in the system,” he told reporters. “I don’t think that’s been done in the last few months [since Pakistan returned to the international fold in June last year after a 15-month FIFA suspension was lifted].”
Constantine only arrived in Pakistan last week, replacing the sacked Shehzad Anwar under whom Pakistan lost all eight matches they played, and said he was alarmed by the state of the team.
“Everything is an area of concern in my opinion — defence, midfield and attack,” he said. “I’m trying to fix things which I can and try to get some shape before we play India.”
Constantine has overseen five training sessions composed solely of local-based players since his arrival in Pakistan. He’s only spoken on the phone with seven of the foreign-based players in the 23-man squad, including first-choice central defenders Easah Suliman and Abdullah Iqbal.
But he said it was easier to get his message across to the foreign-based players.
“The foreign-based players have the foundation that the local ones don’t have and it’s easier to explain my philosophy even though it’s on the phone,” he said, lamenting the fact that there was a non-existent domestic football structure in the league.
The last season of the Pakistan Premier Football League was held in 2018 with the PFF mired in crisis and controversy before and after the NC was appointed in September 2019. The only domestic competition organised by the NC since June has been a part of the National Challenge Cup.
“Games are the biggest teacher,” added Constantine. “Without it, you don’t have a football foundation.”
The 60-year-old admitted he would’ve “liked to be with the side at least a month before games” and informed that he’d selected the squad on “information from coaches on the ground” as well as taking into account scouting reports of the players abroad.
Constantine was joined by Claudi Altieri on his staff on Thursday, the PFF NC announcing the Venezuelan-Italian will be the team’s performance coach.
And he was optimistic about Pakistan’s chances against Cambodia. “If we get the combination right, watch out!” he said.
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2023