My thoughts on the sorry state of Iraqi football

I wanted to jot down my own musings on the sorry state of Iraqi football and the shambolic and backward steps Iraq has made, which has allowed the so-called minnows or lesser footballing nations on the Asian continent, who in fairness have worked academically and theoretically for several years to reach our level in Asia and surpass it. The truth about sports in Iraq, is that there is no planning for the future of sports in Iraq whether it comes from the Ministry of Youth, Iraqi FA or the Olympic Committee. Millions of dollars are being spent annually and results evidently and expectedly conclude in failure. There are no aims nor targets set and expectations and whether they reach those targets are hit and miss and based on luck. In almost 70 years, the stately and ostentatious name of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee (which it is, only a name) has worked tirelessly spending Iraq’s money to achieve and produce just a single medal at the Olympic Games!!! The Ministry of Youth spent millions on a Sports City and two stadiums in the city of Basra for the Gulf Cup which they did not host and yet still this facility has not been completed, and the 60,000 capacity stadium sits empty and unused!

A lot has led to this and while the prime instigator in the whole affair in football in Iraq are the Iraq Football Association and its predecessors, the constant calls for the resignation of the FA will not change anything. Whether the new Iraqi Football Association administration is led by the renowned and glorified football names of the past such as the likes of Falah Hassan or Hussein Saeed, it won’t change a thing. The core reason why Iraqi football and sports in general is lagging behind, is that successive administrations are set-up to fail, and honestly this is the best they can do in its current capacity with the people they have in place at the Football Association.

The Iraq FA is run by only a few individuals and departments and most of these figures are sportsmen and not innovators or modernisers and they live in a place that time forgot. Iraqi sports is stuck in the 30s and 40s, living a hand to mouth existence and dependent on the state for funds, at times begging for extra-funding once the people running a club or sports organisation notice that the funds handed to them by the Ministry of Youth would not cover their expenses. And this is without citing corruption or what you can call a mis-direction of funds.

You only need to have a look at the stadium and training facilities of the oldest football club in Iraq and see our sports administration in Iraq have failed to follow the progression of the rest of the world. Many of the names of Iraq’s football clubs denote the government institutions where they were founded and to this day, they continue to be dependent on these institutions for funding to pay the wages of players, its employees and the day to day running of its clubs and their dilapidated stadiums and out of date training facilities.

Iraqi sport and the Iraqi Football Association needs to be reformed and this will not come from demonstrations outside the Al-Shaab Stadium or the streets of Baghdad or even a million loud and vocal demonstrators outside the headquarters of the Iraqi Football Association, the change has to come from within. The whole set-up of the Iraqi Football Association needs a complete reformation, no longer can people with only a background in football and a diploma in Physical Education lead and guide football in Iraq and make plans for the future, because for the past thirteen years we have waited for a person to guide Iraqi football and each time, a new sportsmen takes charge as FA president expectations are high at the start but the results all end the same.

Whether we like it or not, football is seen as a business in the world, it is a business and to be able to advance there has to be investment because football in Iraq cannot live this hand to mouth existence if it wants to even ponder thinking about qualifying for successive World Cups or challenging the likes of Iran, South Korea, Japan or Australia.

Look at the set-up of other football associations around the world and compare them to Iraq. Where in the world does the president of a football association get himself involved in the selection of a national squad? There needs to be a separation from technical and administrative matters in football, currently a former player and football coach in his role as the team manager is the person asked to process visas and buy plane tickets and organise bookings for a team’s hotel. This ex-player one of only 22 Iraqi footballers who played in a World Cup finals, his expertise and knowledge should be put to better use. As protesters in Baghdad, every Friday scream at the people in-charge in the Green Zone demanding a more technocratic government, Iraqi football fans should demand the same from the Iraqi Football Association. Only then will there be planning and improvement (and at least some form of progression) in football in Iraq.

The decision making within the Iraq FA is based purely on personal outlooks or rash impulses rather evaluated and dedicated planning. The function of committees within the Iraq FA has proved to be an impotent process and a complete failure, structured simply to give light entertainment to onlookers like a poorly constructed Turkish soap opera. The Iraqi media and sports fans should demand a revolution in organisation in football in Iraq, a separation of technical and administrative matters in football and sports and employing a more technocratic system. A football association should function as if it is a miniature government and while it was voted in democratically, it is currently run and ruled on the personal whims of one person, with two in-warring cliques on either side of the FA president. These people do not have any visions of how to progress football in Iraq nor do they even have any idea of how to lead Iraqi football for the better in the future.

You can change the FA president a million times, the fact is, the feeble system being held in place is set-up to manage Iraqi football on an hourly basis, it cannot plan for the next day, let alone next month, next year or the next decade. Iraq football mirrors its society and that change can only come from within. Replacing the President while those shaky and fragile foundations stay the same will see Iraqi football end up with the same miserable results.

Preview: Iraq v Thailand

Iraq go into the first match of their World Cup qualifying round double header knowing they need a victory over Kiatisuk Senamuang’s Thailand at the PAS Ghavamin Stadium in Tehran to stand any hope of leapfrogging the current leaders and topping Group F.

Thailand currently top Group F with 13 points from five games. Iraq are second with 8 points, having played a game less and need maximum points in their final group matches to qualify as group leaders ahead of Changsuk (“The War Elephants”).

Iraq’s coach Yahya Alwan, who managed the side during their disastrous 1998 World Cup campaign where he was sacked and sent to the notorious Radwaniya prison on the orders of Uday, the son of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, lost the services of two of his key players for the vital qualifier through injury

A day before Swedish-based winger Ahmed Yasin was expected to set to fly off to Tehran, the player pulled a hamstring in his club AIK Solna’s pre-season training match with Gefle IF and has been ruled out for 7 to 10 days, meaning he would miss both of Iraq’s final group matches.

The 11th hour injury is a blow to Iraq’s preparations after Yahya Alwan lost midfield mainstay Yaser Kasim a few weeks prior after he picked up a long-term knee injury in an outing in England’s League One for Swindon Town.

In Kasim’s absence come Olympic player Amjad Atwan, who made his international debut in Iraq’s solitary warm-up game with Syria on Friday and Osama Rashid of Farense in Portugal’s Segunda Liga. The pair will battle it out for a place in midfield alongside Iraq’s most experienced player in the centre, Saad Abdul-Amir of Saudi club Al-Qadisiya.

Osama Rashid, with 15 appearances for Iraq, last played for the team at the 2015 semi-finals in the downpour in Sydney, where the Lions of Mesopotamia were beaten 2-0 by South Korea. The midfielder has been recalled to the side after an impressive season with Farense, where he has been a first team regular and is currently the club’s top scorer with 7 goals, with two of those coming in his club’s last game, a 3-0 win over Leixões SC.

Iraq will be led by their team captain, veteran Younis Mahmoud, who despite being Iraq’s top scorer in their qualifying matches, with four goals in four games, was a direct target of disgruntled fans at the PAS stadium last Friday repeatedly chanting for the Iraqi coach to substitute him after another lacklustre performance in an Iraqi jersey.

Younis, who turned 37 last month, responded to the criticism after the 1-0 defeat by stating that if he listened to everything the media and fans had previously said about, he would have retired years ago. Another member of the 2007 Asian Cup winning team, goalkeeper Nour Sabri will start in goal and will make his 99th international appearance against Thailand.

Ali Adnan of Serie A club Udinese was one of the last players to link-up with the Iraqi squad at their team headquarters in Tehran and will start on the left side of midfield, partnered by left back Dhargham Ismail, of Turkish Süper Lig side Çaykur Rizespor.

Iraq have not beaten Group F leaders Thailand in fifteen years, with their last victory coming during a 2002 World Cup qualifying match held in Baghdad, which Iraq won 4-0.

Last September these two nations played out a thrilling 2-2 draw in Bangkok, which witnessed the Thais, 2-0 down and with ten minutes left, score two quick goals in the space of three minutes to salvage a crucial point against their Group F rivals.

Osama Rashid: From Alphense Boys to Farense (In English)

Osama Rashid Alphense Boys to Farense
By gerard haverkamp | Posted June 29, 2015 |

Osama Rashid this week leaves Alphense Boys to get started at Sporting Clube Farense in Faro, which plays in the Portuguese Segunda Liga as a professional footballer. He has agreed a one-year contract. Next Friday is only the medical examination. When that goes well, Osama Rashid will immediately join up with the team. Starting tomorrow (Tuesday) to prepare for the new season.

The “transfer” of Osama Rashid was last night announced via messages on social media. “That was not the intention. Today I wanted to inform first Alphense Boys, but suddenly everything comes into momentum, “says Rashid. This morning he informed the board early, technical advisor Kees Jansma and trainer Aad van den Berg. “Everyone responded positively happy. It’s given me hope. ”

Osama Rashid came with his parents as a refugee to the Netherlands at a young age and went through the youth academy at Feyenoord. He failed to turn professional with them, but a few years ago he was selected for the Iraqi national team. Via FC Den Bosch and Excelsior Maassluis Rashid came two years ago playing at the Boys and was a key player in midfield. In his first season he scored six goals.

Last year, the Boys narrowly missed being promoted to the big league, Rashid scored seven goals. The 23-year-old player made the nationwide sports news when he was in the winter with Iraq in Australia when he participated in the Asian Cup tournament “Until the Asian Cup I had no agent, but then dozens contacted me. Eventually I asked Sean Choi to accompany me further. He is a Korean living in the Netherlands and was real. He immediately said it would be difficult even to make the transition from amateur to professional at my age. One time there was interest of a club from Saudi Arabia, until two weeks ago Farense showed interest. ”

“Both the coach and the technical director were immediately concrete,” added Osama Rashid. He immersed himself in the history and the plans of the club, which in the eighties and nineties witnessed its best years in the Portuguese league. In total, Farense spent 23 years in the Primeira Liga, where they finished fifth in 1995 and played European football. “After that, the club had financial troubles and ended eight years of punishment even went down to the amateur level. Since then Farense has been jotted, financially stable, two years ago they reached the Segunda Division, promoted to the Segunda Liga, the second highest level in the Portuguese professional league. ”

“What I will do is to compare financially with the Jupiler League in Netherlands and the level is just a bit stronger. It’s a big competition; We play 46 games. Naturally, I’ll remain available to the Iraqi national team, “said Rashid, who will be living in an apartment in Faro. “I see it as a wonderful opportunity to still achieve something in professional football. Should the unexpected not happen, then it’s a great experience to go through once. In pre-season, we’ll play against Sunderland and Bristol City. I’m looking forward to it already. I will do my best to make it a success. ”

When asked on social media last week what were his plans for the new season, Osama Rashid replied: “Simple, be champion with Alphense Boys’. Now: “How fast things can go. I expect the Boys even without me are also going to make it. Even though we failed to get promoted, I had two wonderful years with the team and will certainly continue to follow Alphense Boys. ”

JAPAN 4-0 IRAQ [Match detail]

11/06/2015, Nissan Stadium, International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama – 68.029
JAPAN 4-0 IRAQ [HT 3-0]
SCORERS: Keisuke Honda 5′ (1-0), Makino Tomoaki 9′ (2-0), Shinji Okazaki 32 (3-0), Genki Haraguchi 84′ (4-0)

JAPAN: 1 Eiji Kawashima – 5 Yuto Nagatomo, 20 Makino Tomoaki, 22 Maya Yoshida, 19 Hiroki Sakai – 17 Makoto Hasebe [c] (2 Shogo Taniguchi 76), 7 Takeshi Gaku Shibasaki (16 Hotaru Yamaguchi 85)– 11 Takashi Usami (14 Yoshinori Muto 66), 10 Shinji Kagawa (8 Genki Haraguchi 66), 4 Keisuke Honda (26 Kensuke Nagai 66)– 9 Shinji Okazaki (18 Yuya Osako 72)
COACH: Vahid Halilhodžić (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

IRAQ: (4-5-1)
[1] Jalal Hassan [Nadi Amana Baghdad] [25/0]
[16] Samal Saeed [Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya] [66/2]
[13] >46′ Samih Saeed [Nadi Amana Baghdad] [5/0]
[2] Rebin Sulaka [Syrianska FC-SWE] [1/0]
[14] Salam Shaker [c] [Al-Shurta] [85/4]
[15] Dhargham Ismail [Al-Shurta] [28/2]
[3] >88′ Ali Bahjat [Al-Shurta] [26/0]
[21] Saad Abdul-Amir [Arbil] [47/1]
[8] Saif Salman [Hajer FC Al-Hasa-KSA] [37/0]
[23] >69′ Hussein Ali Wahid [Al-Minaa] [3/1]
[7] Justin Meram [Columbus Crew SC-US] [14/0]
[5] >54′ Yaser Kasim [Swindon Town FC-ENG] [15/3]
[9] Ahmed Yasin [Örebro SK-SWE] [39/3]
[11] Humam Tariq [Al-Ahly Dubai SCC-UAE] [29/1]
[19] Amjad Radhi [Al-Raed Saudi SC-KSA] [35/2]
[18] >71′ Marwan Hussein [Al-Shurta] [11/0]
COACH: Akram Ahmed Salman

Referee: Daniel Bogdan Stefański (Poland)
Linesmen: Michał Obukowicz (Poland) & Krzysztof Myrmus (Poland)
Fourth Official: Minoru Tojo (Japan)
Cautions: Saad Abdul-Amir 37′.

After an ineffective season in Turkey, what next for Ali Adnan?

Scarcely mille-seconds before the black ink is dry on a preliminary deal between Rizespor and Udinese, Iraqi football fans from the player’s home district of Adhammiya in Baghdad to neighbouring Kadhimiya, to Arbil, Samarra, Najaf and Basra to Edgware Road in London and Dearborn, Michigan are envisaging the Iraqi left back trotting onto the pitch at the Stadio Friuli in the black and white jersey of Udinese.

This is what the Iraqi football community have long been waiting for, an Iraqi international playing in one of the world’s top leagues. Whether he’ll be wearing the black and white jersey of the Bianconeri in Serie A or in La Liga for the Nazaríes of Granada Club de Fútbol next season, this will be a major step up for the boy from Adhammiya and a chance for him to overlook his troubled 2014-2015 campaign in eastern Black Sea Region of Turkey and turn a new page in his career.

First goal for Rizespor

A season to forget at Rizespor

The 2014-15 wasn’t one Ali Adnan will back with any fondness. He was a shadow of the dominating left footed juggernaut of a footballer the world observed at the 2013 World Youth Cup which persuaded the owners of newly promoted Çaykur Rizespor to tie him down to a five year-contract worth $650,000 US.

The player claimed to an Iraqi television interview that he had been recommended to the club by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a semi-professional footballer himself whose family originated from Rize.

The player’s agent Najim Mohammed along with his family decided that the north-east Turkish cirty of Rize was the best place for him, even though there were other more lucrative offers reportedly from Seville, Livorno, Galatasaray, and Nice on the table. But what may have tipped the scale in Rizespor’s favour was its good relationship with the Iraqi FA and more importantly that the club allowed for his close family to reside with him during his stay in Rize.

In his first season in Turkey, Ali was a first team regular at Rizespor making 31 appearances in the Turkish league as the club finished 13th and avoided relegation. The Iraqi was in 32 of the club’s 34 league squads, missing one game through suspension while only once being excluded from the match day squad. Ali managed to score 3 goals and assisted 9 goals, an impressive tally for a left back in his first season.

But while people at the club saw development in the defender in his debut year, that growth spurt seemed to have stunted this season especially after he felt his national duty and allegiance to national coach Hakim Shaker, his former youth coach, was more important than his professional responsibilities with Rizespor.
It had all begun so well for him after starting two of the club’s opening league games at home to Genclerbirligi and away to Beşiktaş, both matches Rizespor drew 1-1.

However his decision to fly to Incheon to play for the Iraqi Under 23s at the Asian Games implied to his club manager that his heart wasn’t fully with the Rize team, but despite missing crucial league games to Mersin Idmanyurdu, Bursapor and Eskisehirspor, two of which the club lost. Ali returned to the starting line-up after leading Iraq’s Under 23s to a bronze in South Korea. He started against Balikesirspor, Sivasspor and that fateful game at home to Kayseri Erciyesspor, this ultimately was the start of his spiral down the pecking order at the club. In the 27th minute of that match, Ali Adnan was red-carded and missed the next game away to Fenerbahçe allowing him to fly off early for the Gulf Cup in Riyadh.

He returned after his suspension at home to Basaksehir but limped off after only 28 minutes and wasn’t in the match day squad for the following defeat with Kasimpasa and lasted 82 minutes in the 3-1 defeat to Karabükspor before he was hauled off. That defeat, which was the club’s fifth successive loss in the league, resulted in the sacking of manager Mehmet Özdilek the man that had given Ali his debut and that all but called time on his career at Rizespor.

The new manager Hikmet Karaman benched the Iraqi in his first game in charge away to Trabzonspor and handed the left back spot to Eren Albayrak and Ali has struggled to have a look in since then, with his excursion at the Asian Cup in Australia, not helping.

In 22 league matches under Karaman, Ali has made a mere three substitute appearances (amounting to 65 minutes), been on the bench on 8 occasions and hasn’t been named in any of the last ten match day squads under by Karaman.

The Rizespor manager stressed Ali Adnan was “seen as a formidable player on the television” but had only seen a few aspects of his game and on the defensive side there was need for what he called “self-development.”

It has been a difficult season for the left back with several articles of his alleged lack of professional attitude in training. A report on March 3 from Turkish website claimed the Iraqi defender “haunted” by his weight gain, was reluctant to do any vigorous training and his private life was “extremely fast” and noted by his neighbours to be “passionate”.

Ali denied the rumours and claimed that he had attempted to begin libel proceedings against the website but people told him that there was no need to take any legal action because the website was small and “wasn’t professional” and that they didn’t know who was writing for them!

This wasn’t the only story in March, Karadeniz Gazete claimed that the Iraqi defender living near a secluded café which he often frequented, the waiter working at the establishment was quoted as saying that the player “often lately comes with various female friends, leaving a nice tip!”

Ali Adnan in tears after 2013 World Youth Cup semi-final defeat

Ali Adnan stands in solidarity with Iraqi Army against ISIS

An olive branch from Udine

Earlier this month, his Turkish club announced that the Iraqi defender wasn’t in the club’s foreseeable plans for next season but it seems that despite a season warming the bench and his weight gain (discussed by the Iraqi coaching staff during their recent two friendly internationals with DR Congo), the talented former graduate from Ammo Baba’s Football School is still in high demand.

Ali has matured in these last two seasons in Rize, he’s no longer the shy and startled looking schoolboy presented to the Turkish media at his unveiling press conference on signing for Rizespor in the summer of 2013, nor is he alien to top flight European football, experiencing the scorching and vibrant welcome of home fans at top clubs in the Turkish league and shouldn’t be overawed to what either La Liga or Serie A has to offer in that regard.

But he has been out of shape for some time and even when he was performing so well for Rizespor, Ali did look at around half a stone overweight. This has affected his overall game, looking a slight slower on the ball and while people will be reminded of his heroic, somewhat dogged match-winning performance at the 2013 World Youth Cup, Ali hasn’t taken that aspect of his game that inch further.

The club Udinese Calcio of Italian businessman Giampaolo Pozzo who also owns two other football clubs, Granada CF in Spain and Watford FC in England, have been known for a taking a chance on talented footballers, with the likes of Oliver Bierhoff, Márcio Amoroso, Stephen Appiah, Sulley Muntari, Samir Handanović and Alexis Sánchez, just a few names who were given first team football and the opportunity to thrill spectators at Udinese’s Stadio Friuli and make their name at the club since Pozzo took over in 1986, before making multi-billion Lira or million Euro move to bigger clubs.

Ali Adnan must believe in his own abilities if he wants to succeed at either Granada or Udinese and follow in the footsteps of Bierhoff, Muntari or Alexis Sánchez.

The manner in which he carries himself and the way he speaks in the third person some would say with a tinge of arrogance, will hold him in good stead over the next few years because it’s now that he experiences a whole new level of professionalism, and after an unproductive season in the 1st Süper Lig, the left back has to take this chance with both hands.

This dream opportunity is one that some of Iraq’s greatest and most talented football players including his uncle Ali Kadhim never had, and Ali Adnan has to get back into shape and work on his game if he wishes to reach another footballing plateau, to match the ‘Iraqi Gareth Bale’ tag branded about, this move should be considered a stepping stone for him and not a retirement home. The player may feel that he has arrived at the top but this is only the start of a long road, Ali Adnan is no where near to what an all-round professional footballer should be, but he has all the physical attributes to succeed in Europe. But he has to keep his mind focused mentally, on training, on developing his game and the rest will come.