Next month, the liquefied-FA will dispatch, a hastily-arranged, barely-patched-up team of Iraqi players, resembling something crossed between a national C selection and Olympic B side led by unattached national team captain Younis Mahmoud to play on Palestinian soil to take part in the Al-Nakba Cup.
The FA and their employee trainer named a list of foreign based professionals for the tournament, a mere masrahiya ‘theatrical play’ to the audience, al-jamhour ‘the fans’, because they know that FIFA rules forbid them from selecting any player outside the Iraqi league, as this tournament is not considered an official FIFA tournament nor are the matches being played on FIFA match days so the 72-hour rule don’t apply and clubs don’t need to release their players.
Three days after naming a 50-man squad, the media quoted the Iraqi assistant coach Karim Salman as stating that the European and Gulf professionals weren’t able to take part. What insightful planning and organisation from the coaching management and the Iraqi FA officials. They already should’ve known that the professionals would have never been released by their clubs even before the squad was named. Everyone loves a soap-opera, and the officials at the FA are script-writers of the highest calibre, working to manipulate the emotions of the jamhour. But planning on the pitch is something they don’t seem to know about about, the FA don’t even know what to label the team that will play in Palestine, will it be called the Under 22, Olympic or the national team?
The continuous postponement of matches in the Iraqi league has hampered the development of many of its teams and promising players, a league, which, for the past few years since the introduction of a single league division has seen growing crowds and more television interest inside and outside of Iraq’s borders.
I’m not knocking this tournament, in the past the Iraq FA would’ve sent the senior national team to play in Palestine, it would be an honour for any Iraqi player to play there, but the timing of this tournament is an issue and the disruption it will cause to the Iraqi league season, which has suffered enough of the FA’s enforced postponements of the past few years.
In the past, the Baathist Iraq FA, with its staunch Pan Arab agenda would play in regional tournaments, ‘playing’ to their desired audience, the Arab Cup and the Gulf Cup were preferred ahead of the Asian Games and the continents top competition the Asian Cup. That was the politics at the time. This decision to go to play in Palestine, is neither political nor to do with any major planning on the part of the (dissolved) FA administration. They were invited, the FA held a meeting and agreed to go. With no planning or thought process to this decision, or questioning whether Iraq taking part would benefit anyone. Does it benefit the Iraqi league? The clubs or the players? The answer is a straight no.
Taking a quick glance at the team’s taking part, Pakistan’s U22 and Jordan’s U22, this competition, apart from being held in Palestine, is merely a pointless, might I say a ‘Mickey Mouse’ Cup. Winning these kinds of tournaments will neither further the national game, nor improve or advance the Iraqi players, to play at the top level. The Iraq FA should send a youth side, formed from our reserve U-20 players and the Under 17 team, so not to further disrupt the Iraqi league and postpone any more games. But will that happen? No, the FA and Hakim Shaker will try and get the best players available to him, to win this tournament, as if it was the World Cup or Champions League.
It seems that the Iraq FA officials and their employees just want to delude the millions of Iraqis cheering Al-Montakhab, by pretending that the Iraqi team is a major force in Asia and the Middle Eastern region. If Iraqi football wants to make that forward step, to challenge the best in Asia, then the FA have to be visionaries, planning from year from year, not from week to week. Look at some of the top nations in Asia or the rest of the world, and they organise, plan their friendly matches, training camps, squad gatherings, some a year in advance, but the FA are cheta, preparing and scheduling like a Sunday league team or shaabiya side, working day by day with no direction, no-plan. We build our first international stadium in almost 50 years, but the Ministry of Youth, Olympic Committee and the Iraqi FA cannot work together and put their differences aside for the bigger cause, our national game. The Basra Sports City stadium is now just gathering dust.
And our great sporting personalities, (they know who they are), these so-called legends are more scared of harming their own reputations and name than putting everything they have on the line, to help what made them and what gave them a living, and what ultimately gave them their name. So who’ll do it for us, who’ll stop these cliques of organised criminals holding the sport we Iraqis love so much to ransom? Do you trust Iraqi football in the hands of Najih Humoud, Abdul-Khaliq Masoud, or anyone of their fellow crooked colleagues?
Asood Al-Rafidain didn’t reach the pinnacle of football in the region with this kind of purposeless-base. We’ve come from educated academics and teachers of football, working and engineering the rise of the national game since the end of WW2, the Akram Fahmi, Ismail Mohammed, Adil Basher, Thamir Muhsin, and Muayad Al-Badry of this world, to Najih Humoud, Abdul-Khaliq Masoud, Kamil Zaghir, Naiem Saddam, Tariq Ali and the rest of the money-grabbing generation of ‘dinosaurs’ holding the monopoly of our national game, but they seem to be taking us backwards instead of forward. Are we getting enough for our Iraqi dinars? We got more productivity under the great footballing minds of Ismail Mohammed and Adil Basher, who in his day, as president of the Iraq FA, and holding the coaching role of the national team, never took any payment for coaching and managing the national team. And these people worked with less than 1% of what the current dissolved or illegal Iraqi FA employees are working with.
With these people, we’ll always live in mediocrity, always dreaming. Is this ‘the Great Iraq’ we always talk about? Is this the best we can be?
Al-Nakba Cup starts on May 1, and the Iraqi team begins training on April 21, before making its way to Jordan five days later, and then onto Palestine. Get ready to cheer on Hakim Shaker’s mirage of a world beating team.