Interview with MTK coach, Giovanni Costantino

@Magyar_bmb had the pleasure of conducting an interview with MTK Budapest’s Head coach, Giovanni Costantino. Quietly spoken, respectful, charming, articulate, a big beaming smile and full of positivity, with a deep love of football that he says he just can’t explain how much it means to him.

When did you fall in love with football?

Back when I was 5 years old in my home, Messina.

Why did you want to become a coach? What does working as a coach mean to you on a personal level?

I started out playing but then stopped and people said to me I would make a good coach.  I tried it and found that I really enjoyed it. I love being a coach, it is everything to me. I have worked towards this now for 10 years, developing myself, learning, I’m always learning. I enjoy my work, that is the reward for me. I like to take a collaborative approach and do that as much as possible but as the head coach I do have to take a step away from that and make the decisions. Football is all about the results and that responsibility lies with me.

What are your core values as a coach?

Working hard, working together as a team. Building, growing and strengthening together. Everyone supporting each other. I have to know when to be stronger with a player and say, you are not working hard enough, and when that player might just need an arm around the shoulder and a listening ear.  I am open with my players, I talk to them, I listen to them. I try to understand if there is anything affecting their mentality or their fitness.  The thing with dealing with young players there are a lot of things that can have an effect on how they are feeling and thinking and you have to try and balance how to deal with them. I am a very positive person, I don’t like negativity, I’m not the sort of coach who will say you messed up badly, you’re no good, you have no place playing football or just generally shouting and swearing at them, it does not achieve anything good. There is a different way, a better way, look at the positives, then talk about the mistakes without negativity, tell them what they should have done, not focus on what they didn’t do. They will learn more and they won’t lose confidence or self belief. I respect my players, I trust my players and I believe in my players.

Photo Credit: MTK Budapest

What is your end goal with MTK? This season and long term? What will you consider to be a good season?

I want to build a strong squad for the future. I like to involve the young players, age is not a barrier for me, I trust my young players as much as I trust the more experienced players.  We have a lot of young players and players from division 2 and I want to involve all of them, use them in the match day squad, give them playing time. I don’t believe in having a set starting 11 that you never change, there are many factors that can affect a player’s mentality or their fitness so my starting team are the 11 I feel are the best for the game we have coming up. I ask all of my players to be brave, to have courage on the pitch, to fight for the team. The 11 who are on the pitch need to work as a unit, they need to move forward together, create situations, take chances, move back and defend together, support and cover each other on the pitch. 

You have seen the games, you can see the togetherness that we are trying to achieve.  It is not there all the time, not yet, we are working towards that. Against Kisvárda we had 70 minutes where we were good and then 20 minutes where we were not so focused. Against Újpest we had a really good spell for about 20 minutes and then not so good for 40 minutes and we went 1-0 down, we had to start fighting again and the players they knew this, they worked together more and we got back to 1-1 and then Zalán Vancsa scored the winner. It was very good.  I told him, if you see a chance take it and he did. People will talk of his age but if you can play football, if you have the technique then your age doesn’t matter, young or old.

I was angry at half time, my players were not working hard, they were not focused enough. I told them they needed to work harder, to work together better and they achieved this and it was a very good win for us. Újpest are a good team, they are a very experienced team and yes I am very happy with 2 wins in Budapest derbies!

I don’t know what my long term goal is, that is a tough question, I tend not to think in the long term because football is a results business, it can be very tough so I concentrate more on the short term. I want to build stability into the team, I want to increase the good spells, I want the team to play as a unit for the full game, we are not there yet and that is what I am working towards.  If we work hard, we are brave, we move forward, create situations, take chances and still don’t get a result then it is a motivation to work even harder next time. I don’t like laziness or people expecting things to come to them for no effort, you have to put in hard work, you have to develop the belief that you can achieve and it will pay off.  I want my players to give it their all for 90 minutes, that is what I ask of them. I don’t say I don’t want to see MTK become one of the top clubs, because I would love for that to be the situation but it is not what I focus on. I focus on preparing for the next game, I focus on working with my players to keep progressing, keep improving, to keep working hard, believing in themselves and their teammates and if as a result of that we become one of the top clubs then I will be very happy.

If I attended training tomorrow, what would I see?

Nothing because it is a rest day! (laughs). Normal training, we start with a small sided game, we go onto 2 v 2, 3 v 3, 4 v 4 and work on skills.  I am Italian, I believe in the technical skills more than the physical game.  Fitness can come and go, we do some gym work but I prefer to focus on becoming technically better. If you have the technical skills you never lose them, no matter your age. I am always working with the players to develop their technical skills, to practise these skills to work hard at improving their technique. Later in the week we will look ahead to the game we have we coming up and look at our opponents strength/weaknesses and style of play and focus on how we can exploit the weaknesses, defend against the strengths while playing our game.

How do you rate the standard of the OTP Bank Liga at the moment?

It is a very tough league.  The standard of football is good and improving all the time. We have teams like Fradi, you only have to look at what they have achieved, in Europe as well as domestically to see how much the league is developing.  Fehervár are another big team who did well in Europe a couple of seasons ago.  It is becoming a very strong league with teams able to compete against bigger leagues in European games.  I like the progress I like seeing it grow.  I want to compete, I want to see MTK become a top team in this league. 

I come from a refereeing background so for me I like seeing a coach who lets their emotions show but is also respectful towards referees. What are your views on referees and VAR?

I don’t see any reason to disrespect referees.  They are part of us, they are part of the game and we cannot have the game without them. There can be referee mistakes, I will make mistakes as a coach, my players will make mistakes, we are all human. I would not abuse one of my players for making a mistake so why would I do so to a referee? I want to build up a good relationship with them, I want them to respect me as a coach, to do this I must also respect them.  I would like to be able to say to a referee, can you explain that decision to me, in a calm and polite way and for them to say, this is why I called it, it might be some reason I didn’t see or know. Even if they said to me, sorry coach I missed that foul, that is fine to me, it happens. I don’t want to be told to shut up or go away, I want to learn and understand.  You see this at the top level, in International matches, where they will discuss a decision with you and explain the reason for it and I would like to see that here as well. 

I am pleased we have VAR now. I think it is good, it can help the referees to make the right decisions. I would rather wait for a few minutes and have the correct decision on the pitch, it is for the big decisions, the decisions that change the course for a game. I try to not get frustrated if it takes a long time because I know at the end of the time the decision will be correct. Sometimes it can be long, other times it can be quick, I would like to see it being quicker all of the time but getting the decision right is more important than the time it takes.

Photo credit: @gio_costantino_the_coach instagram

How did you and Marco meet & become a team?

I was coming to Budapest and I contacted Marco to see if I could go along and watch a training session. I wanted the learning experience.  He welcomed me along and we talked a lot. Afterwards we kept in touch and then some while later I sent him some videos and stuff from my own coaching.  He liked what he saw, he liked my attitude and my positivity.  When he got the chance to add to his backroom staff he invited me to come to Budapest Honvéd as a coach and I accepted. I worked with him there and we ended up winning the Championship , it was a very proud moment. It is a big club with a long history and to see the hard work that the players had put in across the season result in winning the league was fantastic.

I went to FC DAC with him after Honvéd and it was completely different.  It is a big club but it is more than that, it is a community. It represents the Hungarians in Slovakia and it was such a great experience. We achieved a bronze medal finish there, to see that for the Hungarians living there was a huge reward.

After that the chance to move back to Hungary and be a part of the National Team came up, which I am very proud of. Hungarians wherever they are in the world have a huge support for the National Team, it is amazing, a very strong support and they are always with you.  The team improved a lot, since the Euros in 2016 and now, the team has gone up in the rankings, achieved promotions in the Nation’s League and then qualified for the Euros 2020. It has been a very successful time on the pitch.

What do you think about Marco?

Marco is a good man and a very good coach. He is very experienced and wise. He knows the players, he understands them, he knows how to get the best out of them. He knows the league inside out, he is always watching games and identifying players he might like to try out for the National Team. It is different to club football, he has the best to choose from in all of the clubs and he knows who will fit into the squad. The players like and respect him, the fans, they believe in him and the players and this is a big part of the success. There is a very strong sense of togetherness, the staff, the players and it extends to the fans as well. Hungarian fans are very special, the response to a defeat is even positive because they know the team has given their all. 

Do you see the Hungarian national team building on their impressive Euro’s campaign and qualifying for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar? If so, do you believe their current style will bring progress to RO16?

I think the team will continue to progress, there are some incredible young players coming through as well, who will develop as a squad over the coming years and will have a chance to achieve.  I don’t want to say qualification for the World Cup is definite because it is a very tough road ahead. There are a lot of big and strong teams to overcome but I know the players, coaches and backroom team will give it their everything to get there and are capable.

You obviously had to make a really tough decision to leave the National team just prior to the Euros. Does it bother you that you had to miss out on EURO 2020?

It was a very tough decision but I am not about the trophies or the glory, that is simply not me. I am ambitious and I always want to be challenging myself. The opportunity came up for the Head coach role at MTK and it was an opportunity that I could not turn down. I have been working towards this moment for 10 years so from that point of view it was an easy decision.  I have no regrets, I am proud of the achievements whilst I was involved and will continue to be proud of the National Team. 

For me personally I have my new challenge, I am looking forwards, not backwards.

Photo credit: @gio_costantino_the_coach instagram

Grazie Giovanni.