Taking Jordanian football to the next level

Rasoul Kailani
Adnan Hamad (center) with the national football team. (Photo: Jordan Football Association)
The final round of the Asian World Cup qualifiers are underway, and as per usual, Jordan’s national team will not be participating. Many Jordanians will find this unfortunate, especially considering this is a football-crazed country. Of course, many will say that Jordan’s small size and weak economy are reasons for the national team failing to perform at the biggest stage, which more often than not is a valid excuse. اضافة اعلان

However, war-torn Syria, debt-stricken Lebanon, and crisis-riddled Iraq will all be playing in this round, vying for a spot at the coveted World Cup. From this, we can deduce that this is not the sole reason for Jordan’s footballing failure, and that changes need to be made within the system itself in order for the Nashama to qualify for the World Cup and make it far in the Asian Cup.

Hire local (Jordanian or other Arab) coaches

The final results of various international tournaments serve as proof that having a local coach bears far better results than having a manager from overseas. Every single World Cup winner since the tournament’s inception in 1930 has had a domestic coach.

In the case of the Euro, every winning manager was coaching their nation’s side, barring Greece’s upset victory in 2004. The same applies to Jordan: The best first 11 and accomplishments all occurred under the supervision of Arab coaches.

Between 1997 and 1999, the national team’s two consecutive gold medals in the Pan Arab Games football tournament came under the supervision of Mohammad Awad, a legendary Jordanian coach.

Later, under the seasoned Egyptian gaffer Mahmoud El-Gohary, Jordan qualified for their first Asian Cup in 2004, made the quarter finals in spite of all expectations (they only missed the semifinals after a penalty shootout loss against Japan) and achieved their highest ever FIFA world ranking (37th). More recently, the Iraqi manager Adnan Hamed brought Jordan to the Asian Cup quarter finals once again in 2011, as well as bringing the team the closest they’ve ever been to the World Cup.

Only a playoff loss to Uruguay, after Hamed resigned, prevented Jordan from competing in Brazil the following year.

By contrast, European coaches leading the Jordanian side typically do not perform up to standard. Former England international-turned-manager Ray Wilkins managed Jordan as they crashed out in the group stage of the 2015 Asian Cup.

Furthermore, Belgian manager Vital Borkelmans came under harsh criticism from Jordanian fans after failing to qualify to the next round of the World Cup qualifying in a group where only Australia was a real challenge (and even then, Jordan has defeated Australia three times before in the seven times they have ever faced each other). Because of this, he has recently been sacked.

Difficulties in communication and a lack of relatability probably mean that a foreign coach in Jordan would not be able to manage as efficiently.
As the old saying goes “Speak to a man in a language he understands, and it will go to his brain, speak to him in his own language, and it will go to his heart.

” Strategy and tactics aside, football coaches also have to be “man-managers'' and gain the love and respect of their players, and while not impossible, it would be difficult for a foreign coach to build this level of chemistry with a pool of Jordanian players.

To this end, the Jordan Football Association (JFA) and the Ministry of Sports must put forth more funding in the coaching sector to train potential managers, as all the evidence suggests this would significantly help improve the team.

More diversity in selection

Despite Jordan’s small size, there is a big pool of potential national team players. Youth all over the country play football on a regular basis, from the floodlit pitches of Amman’s many sports clubs to the narrow streets of their block. Surely, a country with a mean age of 23.8 has a grand range of young players to choose from.

However, it seems as though these facts are not being fully exploited. For instance, almost every player who has been selected to the national team for the most recent set of matches was born and raised in Amman, the exception being a few players from Irbid and Ramtha. Additionally, 20 of the 30 players that made the squad either started with or currently play for Jordan’s “big three” clubs (Al Faisaly, Al Wehdat, Al Jazeera.)

Rather than concentrating all scouting activity in a small area or a few clubs, the football association must look far and wide in order to make sure the best talent is being trained for the national team. Brazil, objectively the best side in the history of world football, has a strong tradition of scouting players from all corners of the country, from booming metropolises to countryside towns to packed favelas on the edges of big cities.

This way, the Brazilian football association discovers all the hidden gems and builds a squad with maximum potential. Improvements have been made in this regard in recent years. With each coming squad, more players come from smaller clubs outside of the capital.

Seeing national team players playing for clubs like Al-Salt, Al-Maan and Al-Sahab would have been unthinkable 10 years ago, but this is now becoming a reality. We can probably attribute this positive change to the JFA’s expansion of grassroots football programs across the country.

One way in which the JFA can give more opportunities to players outside Amman and the three big clubs would be to build more football pitches across the country. There are many talented kids who could potentially become professionals if given the right resources — the most important of these being a proper field. Let us take Iceland as an example.

A small and cold country with a mere 370,000 residents, it has gone from having one of the lowest-ranked football teams in Europe to qualifying for the 2016 Euro and making the quarter finals, as well as appearing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. This made Iceland the smallest country to ever achieve either feat.

In part, the Icelandic football association attributes this to ensuring all players have a pitch to play on. Despite the difficulty of doing so in such rough terrain, Iceland has constructed 179 full-sized pitches, one football pitch for every 128 registered players, giving everyone an adequate place to play.

Thus, all aspiring footballers have a good location to hone their skills, while scouts can accurately assess the player’s abilities at an appropriate location. Should Jordan start an initiative to do this in all corners of the country, the pool of selection for the national team would greatly expand, and the national team can get better results.

Stop smoking!

Obviously, smoking cigarettes has extremely negative effects on the lungs, which in turn affects the endurance level of athletes. This is a particularly prevalent phenomenon in Jordan. Jordan has the sixth-highest overall smoking rate in the world (40 percent) and the second-highest male smoking rate (70 percent). While I do not know the national team’s players personally, we can deduce that a decently sized percentage of them smoke to some extent based on these statistics.

In 2019, five of the seven goals that Jordan conceded were in the second half of the game. In 2021, six of the eleven goals conceded so far have occurred within the last half hour of the match. It seems that even when the players are technically skilled (and Jordan has produced many talented footballers in the past), their lack of stamina gets the better of them — a result of cigarettes decimating their match fitness.

This is a harder problem to solve than the other two. Even if team doctors find some remedy to this, it is an issue that affects Jordanian society at large, so perhaps fixing it can be discussed in another piece.

The last decade of Jordanian football can be summed up as an unpredictable sequence of excitement and disappointment. A few notable wins have occurred at the club and country level, as well as immense improvement in infrastructure and youth football (courtesy of the JFA under Prince Ali’s patronage).

Jordan is fully capable of holding its own against Asia’s biggest teams. Iran, Japan, Australia, and Saudi Arabia have all suffered defeat at the hands of our national team. However, certain issues within Jordanian football must be addressed in order to make Jordan a regional powerhouse, rather than a minnow that occasionally causes an upset and then proceeds to lose to mediocre teams before repeating the cycle. If these suggestions are followed, the Nashama can experience long-lasting glory rather than glimpses of victory.

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