BY DAVE MARPLES – @DavidMarples
Name a country in Africa or a Cypriot football club and the chances are that Stephen Constantine has managed them. Name any country on the surface of the planet and the chances are that Stephen Constantine has taken a team his team to play there. He has worked in Asia, Africa, America and Europe. He has taken his teams from North Korea to Zimbabwe. Stephen Constantine has managed more national teams than any Englishman. Ever.
Constantine and Amos kick off with the engrossing story of Constantine pretty much upping sticks and walking away from his father in a quest to make it in the world of football at sixteen years old. It’s a moving tale and frames the author’s nomadic wanderings around the world in order to work as a coach or manager from that point on.
With such a diverse career in football under his belt and his passport stamped more times than philatelist’s notebook, Constantine offers an insight into the hurly-burly and minutiae of everyday football life: contracts and negotiating them are freely discussed, he is liberal and open in talking about his salary and the kind of japes that occur when a group of males spend an inordinate amount of time together:
‘At Millwall, even the kit man, Roy Putt, tried to test me. He’d put out everyone’s kit except mine. When I asked where it was, he’d say, ‘In the tumble dryer. Get it yourself. Other times, my socks would be missing, or my shorts. It went on for weeks until I put him in a headlock on the bus to Norwich in October.
‘What’s your problem, you old bastard?’ I asked, being semi-serious.
‘Steve, I’m only fucking about with you,’ he said, half laughing, half choking.
After that, Roy was good as gold.’
Even for coaches, earning a living from being in and around the dressing room sounds a bit rubbish – or at least, spending so much time in the company of footballers does. Yet, even this banterous anecdote reminds us what a challenging environment football coaching and management is. Despite this and the difficulties he had with then manager at Millwall, Colin Lee, Constantine can’t help himself – he’s addicted to it and what’s more, he has a family to support so he does the only thing he feels remotely qualified to do: coach football – wherever, whenever.
Constantine throws an uncomfortable spotlight onto the issue of who gets the jobs in the ultra competitive world of football management. If it seems like the same riders keep clambering aboard the same horses despite them repeatedly falling off due to mounting the horse in an arse-about manner and buggering everything up, then maybe that’s because it is. This is something Constantine feels strongly about:
‘After Steve McClaren left Middlesbrough to become England manager in 2006, ‘…they chose their captain, Gareth Southgate. He didn’t even have a Pro Licence, which broke the league’s own rules (he was given an exemption).’
As we know it didn’t go very well for Southgate as he was dismissed in 2009. Since then, well, he’s not done too badly for himself in the way of bagging himself a decent managerial job. Constantine’s beef is that he has spent thousands on acquiring coaching qualifications with a view to preparing for a job in management yet he feels he’s banging his head against a brick wall:
‘It’s not just him. Dozens of players have become managers too soon. In 2008, the former England player Paul Ince was given the Blackburn Rovers job without even the B Licence. Five years later, the ex-England striker James Beattie became manager of Accrington Stanley, despite being similarly unqualified.’
For Constantine, it feels very much a case of ‘jobs for the boys’:
‘The Brighton job came up’ it went to former Brighton player Dean Wilkins. The Bournemouth job came up; it went to former Bournemouth player Kevin Bond. The QPR job came up; it went to former QPR player John Gregory. The Norwich job came up; it went to former Norwich player – and my friend from Bournemouth – Peter Grant. I was banging on the door but no one was listening.’
In drawing attention to such a state of affairs, Constantine deserves credit for providing a very human insight into the game of musical chairs that is football management. For all this, it seems legitimate to wonder why the author has such a long list of coaching and management jobs without really seeming to settle in one for a sustained period of time. After fourteen difficult months as manager of Malawi during which Fisher Kondowe and Joseph Kamwendo fell out of favour with him after they ‘sneaked into a club in Harare the night before a game against Zimbabwe,’ things improved for The Flames:
‘The FAM appointed my assistant, Kinnah Phiri, as my replacement. The first thing he did was recall the Harare Two, (Fisher) Kondowe and (Joseph) Kamwendo. I couldn’t blame him: Kamwendo especially, was a good player. Under Kinnah, Malawi reached the finals of the African Cup of Nations in Angola in 2010. ‘
A similar pattern is evident when it comes to his stint as manager of Sudan:
‘My assistant, Mohammed Abdullah, became head coach. Mazda – as he was known – was a great guy. He took Sudan to the quarter-finals of the African Cup of Nations in 2012.’
Of course, there is an argument that it was Constantine who laid the foundations for future success while he was in these posts.
The book is at its best when detailing the nuances of working in such countries as Nepal, Rwanda and India and providing the nuts, bolts, screws and washers of being a truly international coach and manager – spats with David Platt and Roberto Carlos while manager of India confirm that the age-old ‘club versus country’ farrago is alive and well.