Stephen Constantine – The lifelong Arsenal fan battling relegation in Greece

Stephen Constantine

The 51-year-old self-confessed Arsenal supporter has joined forces with former Fulham boss Lawrie Sanchez for Greece’s toughest managerial job.

Nepal, India, Malawi and Sudan.

Other than being relatively unknowns on the international football scene, they all have something in common with each other. They are teams previously managed by Stephen Constantine, one of the 90 British coaches currently managing outside of England.

The English-Cypriot has an unquenchable thirst for the game and evidently thrives off coaching in challenging, sometimes sub-standard conditions. His official website recalls the time he spent with the Nepalese national team, where ‘there was a rabble of 35 players training on a field with a terrible pitch and no nets in the goals’.

Constantine’s reputation saw him appointed to the FIFA Coach instructors’ panel at just 38-years-old. He has a proven track record wherever he’s been and when I ask him why he continues to get overlooked by English clubs he can’t quite put his finger on why he’s had so few opportunities back home in the ‘epicentre of world football’.

“I don’t think the Premier League favour foreign coaches”, says the 51-year-old.

“I think that because I haven’t managed in England people are somewhat skeptical about whether I will do okay there.

“Although when they bring in coaches from abroad who haven’t managed in the Premier League – I think hang on, I’m English, I’ve grown up with English football, I’ve had experience coaching in England.

“Why would you bring someone who has no [English] managerial experience to coach in England?”

After playing professionally in the United States, Constantine became manager of Nepal’s national side in 1999. Since then he has managed the aforementioned India, Malawi, Sudan while having brief stints with Cypriot team’s Nea Salamis and Ethnikos Achna. His only experience of football management in England was a caretaker spell at Millwall almost a decade ago.

He’s now working alongside former Northern Ireland and Fulham manager Lawrie Sanchez at relegation-threatened Greek Super League side Apollon Smyrni. Both Sanchez and Constantine were appointed in November 2013 and immediately took on the mammoth task of keeping Apollon in Greece’s top flight – another massive challenge.

“I was at a point when I was looking for something and I thought I’d quite fancy Greece as it’s somewhere I haven’t been before.”

“Lawrie trusts me enough to get on with most things so it was an opportunity which I wanted to take.”

Following back-to-back victories at Panthrakikos and a 94th minute winner against Ergotelis on Sunday, Apollon can secure their Greek Super League safety on the final day of the season if they beat none other than the Greek champions, Olympiakos in a week’s time.

Apollon are a club steeped in tradition and history. Established in 1890 by a priest, Greek Olympian and Ottoman Empire immigrants, three points on Sunday and a place in next season’s top division would mark another significant achievement for the Ελαφρά Ταξιαρχία (Light Brigade).

Constantine himself is adamant that his side warrants a place in Greece’s top division, alongside revered names such as Panathinaikos and PAOK.

“Would I like to stay with Apollon if we stay in the first division? Yes.

“Is that going to happen? I don’t know. I hope so. The club deserves to stay up given the performances we’ve had since Lawrie and myself got here.

“It would be travesty if a club like Apollon did get relegated but we can only control what we can do.”

Constantine is referring to the ‘palaver’ that almost saw Apollon abandon their relegation fight and exit the Super League. Several questionable refereeing decisions and further suspicious performances from other teams saw the club’s president Stamatis Vellis release a damning statement on the league, insisting that everything is “marked and predetermined” and “there are referees who take instructions”.

Despite their obvious problems, Apollon have the opportunity to prove everyone wrong this weekend when they face the best team in Greece. Olympiakos may have recorded a famous European win over Manchester United recently, but their form of late has been poor. However, they will be hurting following Sunday’s 2-0 loss at mid-table side PAS Giannina, and could confirm Apollon’s relegation if results go against them.

Can two managerial products of England complete the Greek Great Escape?

“Anything is possible”, says Constantine.

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