Stephen Constantine says reducing foreign players will help Indian juniors bloom

The former India football coach feels ISL and I-League clubs have let foreign players overshadow home-spun talent. 

By Utathya Nag

Former Indian football team head coach Stephen Constantine believes the progress of Indian football won’t be halted after Sunil Chhetri retires but admits there are a few challenges to overcome.

Chhetri is India’s all-time highest scorer in the international arena and in the last decade, has been an inspiration after the Bhaichung Bhutia era.

Sunil Chhetri is also the second-highest active international goal scorer in the world, sandwiched between global superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

However, with India’s captain turning 36 this year, there’s apprehension amongst Indian football fans about whether anyone from the next generation can step up and take up Chhetri’s mantle. 

“Who said they (India) haven’t (found a successor to Chhetri)?

“There are more young strikers now than ever before waiting to get their opportunity. For example, Manvir Singh, Farukh Choudhary, and of course several others,” Constantine told Outlook.

The foreign challenge

While the 57-year-old Constantine was confident there was talent aplenty, the veteran FIFA instructor felt young Indian players would only shine if they played in their natural positions at their respective clubs.

Indian teams, both in the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League, have taken a fancy for foreigners often denying young Indian players.

“Indian players would suffer because coaches would let the foreigner play in the position he wanted.

“So, at times, you would see our Indian forward playing left-back or centre midfield to accommodate the foreign player and of course that hurt the development of the Indian player,” explained Constantine, who had two separate stints with the Indian national team.

Both ISL and I-League clubs, until last season, could register up to seven foreigners and field up to five in matches.

Sunil Chhetri with former India coach Stephen Constantine (Image: AIFF)

On the right track

The AIFF Technical Committee has recently proposed the number be brought down to registering and fielding a maximum of four (three foreign players and one of Asian origin) foreigners.

The proposal has already been accepted by the I-League clubs while the ISL is expected to adopt it from the 2021-22 season. The move, Constantine believes, is the correct one.

“It should have been like that from day one. That issue is somewhat alleviated with the reduction of the foreign players in the coming season and hopefully, we will see more of them in the future,” he said.

Bright future for Indian football

The Englishman also believes that the future of Indian football is looking good with a bunch of talented players coming through.

“For me, all of the youngsters were bright prospects. Some did better than others but some players take longer to develop. Ashique Kuruniyan, Anirudh Thapa, Subhasish Bose, Germanpreet Singh, Udanta Singh, Vishal Kaith, and quite a few more, in my opinion, are good players,” he stated.