From Delhi To The Den: The story of football’s most travelled coach

368 DelhiToDen

by Stephen Constantine
De Coubertin, £12.99
Reviewed by Neil Andrews
From WSC 368, October 2017
Buy the book

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for Stephen Constantine. Despite being one of the most qualified football coaches in the world and having managed more national teams than any other Englishman, he cannot land a job in the country of his birth. Although it’s not for the want of trying.

In his autobiography, Constantine vividly recalls interviews for the hot seat at Millwall, Woking and Gillingham among others only to lose out to the less qualified Steve Claridge, Kim Grant and Martin Allen respectively. At least they gave him the chance to put his case. Others were less professional in their handling of his applications. Constantine has therefore had little choice but to build his career in more exotic locations with mixed results.

Initial success with Nepal and India is followed by less successful spells with Millwall (as first-team coach), Malawi and Sudan. Constantine has more luck in Cyprus but is ultimately undermined by the country’s economic problems and a culture of match-fixing. However, not many coaches can claim to have almost started a diplomatic incident in Zimbabwe, been deported from Iran or drawn comparison with Mary Poppins in North Korea. Yet despite the experiences these opportunities have offered, he retains a bitterness towards ex-pros who seemingly walk into a job that threatens to derail an enjoyable read.

Gareth Southgate in particular gets a good berating, not once but twice. First for landing the Middlesbrough job having not completed his coaching badges and then for beating Constantine to the vacant England Under-21 position. Of course, it’s not Southgate’s fault he was successful but while the author acknowledges the system is to blame, he fails to recognise that his main strength is also his weakness.

The sad truth is that Constantine is a little too qualified for his own good. While his many coaching badges should be enough to open doors, his questionable man-management skills ensure that such doors remain closed. Arguments with high-ranking officials aside, he falls out with key members of the squad during stints with Malawi and Sudan and manages to upset Millwall captain Matt Lawrence and rub manager Colin Lee up the wrong way during his time at The Den. By his own confession he is stubborn, refusing the advice of embassy and association representatives to watch football games in trouble spots, but at times this stubbornness borders on arrogance.

Yet it is clear that Constantine lives and breathes football to the extent that when he’s not managing a national team, he is playing Football Manager. Everything else in his life seemingly comes a poor second, like a modern-day, real-life version of Michael Palin’s Golden Gordon, and this enthusiasm is infectious.

Ultimately, however, the reader is left wondering whether or not Constantine could cut it in the Premier League or Championship. He definitely has the qualifications. All he needs now is the opportunity.

Buy the book