A German journalist once stated that superlatives should be used carefully as they tend to wear off. In case of Stephen Constantine’s book From Dehli to the Den. The story of football’s most travelled manager, the use of the superlative is justified. The air miles he has amassed must be sufficient to have his family travel a year for free.
The name Stephen Constantine would not automatically ring a bell with many people in England or Germany. In India, Nepal, Malawi he is a household name as he has worked there among other places. With the journalist Owen Amos he has written an account of his travels and experiences as a coach.
This book, though considered a biography is more a reminder that the life of a football manager does not necessarily lead to the glory of the Premier League or any of the other top leagues in Europe or South America but instead that the career of a manager can take you to very different places for the sake of working as a coach. This is what Constantine and Amos do in this book. Written in simple prose the book is easy and quick to read, yet never boring or repetitive even though the protagonist seems to live through the same experiences in many places. Before his arrival there was neglect of the national team, he arrives fixes something and from then on the setting is changed. Never though does Stephen Constantine come across as big headed. He wants to work as a football coach, in fact he needs to work as a football coach as he seems to be obsessed with it. While starting out as a young coach in Cyprus and later New York he supports himself by selling flowers in the street and taking on various jobs and coaches his teams in the evenings. There has to be a break he thought, yet it never happened at least not in England where he desires to work. He briefly does work at home when he becomes coach at Millwall for a season. Needless to say it does not go too well as the club are in an unhealthy state. His problem of not getting any job in England is pointed out to him quite clearly by one of his former players at Millwall, Kim Grant. He reminds Stephen that he may be the better coach but Grant was a player and therefore, directors and club owners will know him better than Constantine despite the latter’s qualifications. This is frustrating for the writer as time and again his CV his looked over and others get the job. He highlights a problem of English football. If you’re not in the system, i.e. if you have not played and worked in England you have no reputation, no references and you present a bigger gamble than the standard former player turned coach, turned manager for any club owner. That this most often backfires is an entirely different matter.
The parallels to other fields of work are striking. It takes time to build your CV before the big names come knocking at your door. This is the main message he has brought across. Or the big names don’t come but you never give up. This is what he does: never give up but continue to work, to contact people. What is often forgotten in such circumstances: education and keeping up to date with methods. Constantine never tires to learn and to teach others to learn in order to improve themselves. At the same time he is not preaching, he is retelling Kerouac-like his experiences in this book.
A football coach is nothing without competent backroom staff. The most important person for Constantine is his wife, Lucy. Without her he says, nothing would have happened the way it did. His football coaching career is as much her achievement as it is his. She kept the house and raised three children on her own while Stephen worked at different places across the globe. A nice touch and ending to the book comes in chapter sixteen where his eldest daughter, Paula speaks about her experiences. Without a doubt the impact on family life was huge; whether her dad has won or lost a game, the mood in the house shifted accordingly. Seeing her dad come home implied sadness as he would leave again soon. At the same time she is proud of her dad and his achievements.
Despite its shortness, the book only runs to 194 pages, it is a great read. At times the name dropping can make the head spin. The best advice here would be to check YouTube for any snippets of football matches. The book is also a starting point for any story for Indian football as Stephen Constantine has worked there six years in total. However, there is also good information about the likes of Bhutan, Nepal, Rwanda and Sudan for example. No national coach has worked for more national associations than Constantine.
In order to network Constantine has also set up a network of British coaches working abroad so that he and others to stay up to date and get the latest offers but also to exchange ideas.
The wish to work in England was never fulfilled for Stephen Constantine and most recently he has declined a job in the Football League, showing that the best is often not found necessarily at home. It is a reminder that it is often vital to leave the comfort zone in order to progress.