KARACHI: At least Stephen Constantine isn’t talking about performing a miracle and is very much in touch with the reality.
The newly-appointed Pakistan football team coach on Thursday said his side faces a “big challenge” ahead of the opening leg of next week’s 2026 FIFA World Cup first-round qualifier against Cambodia but said his charges “weren’t going to lose”.
Constantine, the well-travelled Englishman whose book ‘From Delhi to the Den’ has anecdotes of his coaching career which has taken him to six continents, said Pakistan were up against it due to the lack of domestic competition.
“It’s a big challenge … there’s a lot of work to be done,” he told reporters on the media day at the Model Town Football Ground in Lahore. “The most important thing is that we don’t have a league. We need the boys to be playing. This is the first problem.”
Constantine’s comments seem to be a jibe at his employers, the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee, which has turned a blind eye towards restoring domestic football during its tenure.
The only men’s tournament it has organised since returning to office — after a 15-month ban by FIFA was lifted in June last year — has been a part of the National Challenge Cup. There have been no plans on holding the Pakistan Premier Football League, which hasn’t been held since 2018.
Instead, the Haroon Malik-led NC has focused on holding long training camps which haven’t bore results. Pakistan have lost all eight matches it has played since returning to the international fold, prompting the NC to sack Shehzad Anwar as the team’s coach ahead of the games against Cambodia with the first leg set for Oct 12 in Phnom Penh and the return five days later in Islamabad.
Constantine drew on his experience of coaching India during his two stints, noting India too had to play a first-round qualifier eight years ago but the circumstances were very different.
“When I went to India in 2015, we had a first-round qualifier against Nepal and the situation was the same,” said Constantine. “But they had the Indian Super League with 12-14 teams playing football every week. Our players are not getting this football so we are starting with one hand behind our back.”
Constantine, who was appointed last week, finalised his squad for the Cambodia matches after having supervised training sessions over the last few days with Denmark-based Hassan Bashir and Adnan Yaqoob the notable omissions.
The 60-year-old will only meet Pakistan’s foreign-based contingent during next week’s international break and has so far only seen the local-based ones at close quarters.
“The talent is there but you have to look for it,” he said, giving the example of Indian winger Ashique Kuruniyan, who was “found in a village seven hours from Kochi but now plays for Indian giants Mohan Bagan”.
“If you’re not looking for talent, if you’re not developing talent, it will go to waste,” added Constantine. “It’s like having a fruit tree in the garden and if you don’t pick the oranges, they will go bad. So we need to start developing our coaches, developing our players and the quickest way to do that is by giving them games.”
Despite the adversities, however, Constantine said Pakistan were going to give “Cambodia a challenge”.
“I didn’t come here to lose,” he said. “We will try to play as much as we can the football I believe we can play. But we’re not going to Cambodia to lose, we’re trying to qualify for the next round of qualifying.”
Goalkeepers: Usman Ali, Salman ul Haq, Yousuf Butt;
Defenders: Mamoon Moosa Khan, Mohibullah, Sohail Khan, Juniad Shah, Ali Khan Niazi, Rao Umar Hayat, Abdullah Iqbal and Easah Suliman;
Midfielders: Alamgir Ghazi, Ali Uzair, Rajab Ali, Nizamuddin, Harun Hamid, Rahis Nabi;
Forwards: Waleed Khan, Mohammad Waheed, Yousuf, Fareed Khan, Abdul Samad, Otis Khan, Moin Ahmed, Shayak Dost.