NEW: STEPHEN CONSTANTINE INTERVIEW!
Stephen Constantine set up the British Coaches Abroad Association last year. The 51-year-old has managed the national sides of Nepal, India, Malawi, and Sudan, and he has just spent the season as assistant manager of Apollon Smyrnis in the Greek Superleague. He also runs courses for FIFA around the world. Here, he talks about bandits in Sudan, bayonets in Turkmenistan, and what it takes to become a top coach…
When I was starting out, I would have loved a British Coaches Abroad Association. You go to Nepal, or India, or places in Africa, and you feel very isolated. You don’t know anyone, and they don’t know you. It’s tough, and sometimes you think: “Bloody hell, what am I doing?”
The BCAA is about being able to find a contact, email them, and ask: “How do things work in this country?” Say someone is going to India. We can say: “Well, Stevie Grieve is out there, Ashley Westwood is out there, I’ve been national coach there, Steve Darby has worked there. Here are their contacts.” It’s about sharing knowledge. It can also work the other way. If we know someone’s going to a certain country, we can say: “If you need anything, let me know,” or: “Be wary of so and so.”
Over the years, I’ve made a lot of contacts, and I just thought we could help each other. So last year, I contacted a few of the guys and said: “This is what I want to do.” It’s a team effort – Daryl Willard (a British coach in Azerbaijan) looks after the Twitter accounts, Efrem Leigh (a recruitment specialist) looks after the jobs page, Owen Amos (a BBC journalist) does the interviews. And I must say, the interviews have given us a lot of recognition. We’re grateful to Football365 for the exposure.
I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s stories, and I’ve got plenty of my own. When I was managing Sudan, I went to see a game south of Khartoum, in a place called Hasaheisa. On the way down, I get a call from Dr Kamal Shaddad, the president of the federation. He was an absolute legend, but for some reason, he used to call me Stephenson. “Stephenson,” he says. “Where are you?” I said: “Doc, there’s sand in front of me, sand either side of me, and sand behind me, I have no clue.” So I passed him on to my driver. Then all I hear is screaming down the other end of the line.
The phone comes back to me, and Dr Shaddad says: “Stephenson! You are in bandit country! Turn round at once!” I replied: “This may be bandit country, but we’re only an hour away from Hasaheisa, and I hear there’s a really good left-back down there.” So he called the association in Hasaheisa, and they sent an armed guard to meet me. I watched 30 minutes, which was enough, and headed back to Khartoum. And yes, I picked the left-back for the national team. So it worked out fine in the end.
When I managed India, I was almost bayonetted to death. We were playing in Turkmenistan, and I like to show players the sights, so we went to a museum. Outside there’s a bronze statue of the president, with a chain railing around it, and two soldiers standing guard. I thought it would make a good picture, so I asked another soldier if it was okay, and he said yes. At least, I thought he did.
I put one leg over the chain fence, and before you know it, there’s a bayonet under my chin. One of the guards hadn’t taken kindly to my photo opportunity. The other soldier, who I’d asked for permission, comes running over shouting: “Nyet! Nyet!” Luckily for me, the guard lowered his bayonet before he slit my throat. Something had obviously been lost in translation.
For years, when you tried to find work abroad, being English wasn’t a positive. Our brand of football wasn’t attractive. That has changed recently, but even now, do you see big European clubs with English managers? A lot of clubs and countries in Asia and Africa think: “If we hire a Brazilian coach, we’ll play like Brazil” or: “If we hire a Spanish coach, we’ll play like Barcelona.”
At the moment, if you’re Spanish, you’re in demand. I know a guy – I won’t say the country – who got a decent job in Asia, off the back of being a football in the community coach in Barcelona. When you’re trying to get work abroad, a lot can depend on the success of your national team.
I read Peter Butler’s interview on our website, and he’s right – some coaches are stealing a living. There are people who, shall we say, “expand their qualifications”. Sooner or later, they’ll get found out – but that can take three, four, maybe five jobs. Even now, some clubs and countries don’t do enough background checks on the coaches they employ. When that happens, you will get cowboys.
Having said that, I disagree with Peter’s other point – that only ex-professionals can become top coaches. If you’re a coach, you’re a football teacher. Being a good player makes you just that – a good player. It doesn’t give you the knowledge to teach. Or the methods, or the patience. There are millions of examples to back that up – Jose Mourinho, Arrigo Saachi, Gerard Houllier, lots more.
I’m currently in Athens, spending my last month at Apollon Smyrnis in the Greek Superleague. Lawrie Sanchez and I arrived in November – they had eight points after 13 games, and were pretty much relegated already. We changed things, ended up on 36 points, but it wasn’t quite enough. But really, being relegated was a travesty – there were situations you just couldn’t account for.
In Greece, you have some teams trying to help other teams. One of our relegation rivals, not known for their goal scoring ability, suddenly win 7-0. In another game, neither team crossed the half way line except for the kick-offs, and neither team had a shot on target!
Working with Lawrie Sanchez was a pleasure. He’s a very, very nice guy, and he knows his football. When you’re a manager, like me, it’s difficult to work for someone else. But with Lawrie, it was fine. For example, after we drew against Panathinaikos, a journalist asked Lawrie how he felt winning his first point. I was translating, so he put his arm around me and said: “WE got our first point today.” That showed he respected me. There aren’t many people I’d work for, but he’s one of them.
When you’re out of work, it’s very, very difficult. I haven’t made millions, and sometimes, you really are in a difficult position. I have a nice home (in Cyprus) but I’m still paying that off, and it’s getting harder and harder to find work. Some people are even offering to coach sides for free, just to get the opportunity. I love coaching, and if I could do it for free, I would.
FIFA have been very good to me. I’ve been one of their instructors since 2000, and they generally send you on one or two courses a year. But when I was out of work, as I was last year, they sent me on several courses, which gets you out there. It’s a simple idea – FIFA send you to a certain country, and you help train their coaches and players. The courses are tailor-made for the associations, so they get exactly what they want. I’m really honoured to be part of that FIFA family.
I’ve run FIFA courses all over the world. Lithuania, Bhutan, Ivory Coast, Swaziland, Jamaica, Vietnam, Cambodia. Hong King. Mauritius, the Maldives. Malta. I love travelling, I love meeting new people, and I love that we’ve all got at least one thing in common – football. In total, I think I’ve been to around 80-odd countries through football, so there’s still some way to go.
I have no idea where my next full-time job might be. I think it’s a case of “where will the wind blow?” I would love to manage in England at some point. My last job interview (in England) was at Gillingham in the summer of 2012, but they went for Martin Allen instead. Having said that, England isn’t the be-all and end-all. I spoke to Bobby Williamson recently and he said: “Why would you want to go back to 14-hour days, the rain, driving up and down the motorways?” He has a point.
What I really want is a project: somewhere I can stay for two or three years, and really develop something. Most of my career, if not all of it, has been spent fire-fighting. I’d love to go back to the US, where there are a lot of new teams, and build something to last. In the summer, I had an interview with Sacramento Republic – a British guy, Graham Smith, is doing a brilliant job as technical director there. They had their first home game last week and got 20,000 fans.
Every day, I get emails from young coaches, looking for advice. I’m very open – I’m on Twitter, my email address is on my website, and I like to help people. I reply to almost everyone, although some are harder than others. Today, I got one that said: “I want to be a coach. Help me.” What can you say to that! Am I a father figure to young British coaches? I hope not – I’m not old enough!
I love everything about football, apart from cheats and match-fixers. This isn’t a job for me – it’s something I love doing. There’s nothing better than working on something in training, then seeing it come off in a game. And I love developing young players. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a Greek second division game to watch a player called Tawonga Chimodzi. When he was 17, I picked him to play for the Malawi senior team. Now he’s playing professionally in Europe, and he’ll be at a higher level than the Greek second division next year. I love stories like that. It makes it all worth it.