Omar Bugiel: ‘Playing for Lebanon is great and is in our blood’

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Omar Bugiel was playing Sunday League football seven years ago, now he’s a Lebanon international. (Getty Images)
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Omar Bugiel was playing Sunday League football seven years ago, now he’s a Lebanon international. (Getty Images)
Updated 15 March 2019
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Omar Bugiel: ‘Playing for Lebanon is great and is in our blood’

  • Omar Bugiel: I flew out to Beirut about a week after the call and got my passport sorted so I could play for them in the Asia Cup qualifying game
  • Having been rejected by 1860 Munich aged 16 he decided to leave Germany and try his luck in England

LONDON: Being born in Germany, moving to England aged 16 before playing park football and finally making it as a professional with the little-known Forest Green Rovers may not sound like a route to becoming a Lebanese international, but then the Cedars are not like most international teams.
The Middle East country has a population of just over six million people but an estimated eight to 14 million of Lebanese origin living abroad. That potential pool of players has sent the country’s coach Miodrag Radulovic (below), like his predecessors, scouring the globe looking for talent.
Thanks to having a Lebanese father, Omar Bugiel was brought to the coach’s attention on one of his forays abroad, and for the Bromley striker it came as something of a shock.
“I was minding my own business when I got this call. It was from an unknown number and I thought it was a missed call or something,” the 24-year-old told Arab News.
“It was the national team manager, Radulovic. I am not really sure how he got my number to be honest, but he asked me if I would be interested in playing for the national team and that was that. It was completely out of the blue.”
That unexpected call took place two years ago and since then Bugiel has been a key member of a Lebanon team breaking new ground on the international scene, while also now playing for Bromley in the fifth tier of English football. His entry into the national team set-up coincided with the Cedars’ rapid rise up the FIFA rankings and an unbeaten stretch of 16 matches, which ended last October with a 1-0 defeat to Kuwait.
To go from club player with the unheralded Forest Green Rovers to international football was “a big thing” but Bugiel’s path to professional football was, like his journey to international football, far from typical.
Having been rejected by 1860 Munich aged 16 he decided to leave Germany and try his luck in England. He had spells at five clubs before getting the move to Forest Green Rovers, where he scored 48 goals in 124 appearances. That route has seemingly made him ready for anything, including playing international football for a country he admits he had “only been to a few times before.”
“I flew out to Beirut about a week after the call and got my passport sorted so I could play for them in the Asia Cup qualifying game,” Bugiel said. “Next thing I knew I was traveling for my first match against Malaysia. I didn’t get on the pitch, I couldn’t expect to get in ahead of the players who had been playing for two to three years.

 

“I was patient, traveling with the squad for the North Korea match and then made my debut against Singapore.
“That was a big thing for me, I only played about 45 minutes but to have played Sunday League football and then seven or so years later to be playing for your country is massive.”
Like Bugiel, a lot of the Lebanon team is drawn from far and wide. As many as nine of the recent Asian Cup squad were born abroad, but rather than create divisions in the camp Bugiel claims the diversity is a unifying factor and that they all are proud to play for the Cedars.
“There are Lebanese around the world and whenever I play for the team I want to do well. We have done really well these past few years, it’s a massive thing for everyone, for the players born there and the rest of the squad. For me and Hilal El-Helwe, (who is also German-born) every time we go there we cannot wait to get to play for the national team because it’s in our blood.
“Everyone is going to be different, and yes the language it is a difficult thing, my Arabic isn’t the best but I get along with every single player, there are no separate groups.”
That having such a diverse range of players has not hindered Lebanon’s results can easily be seen in the results they have enjoyed. The unbeaten run and leap from 178th eight years ago to 77th in the FIFA rankings last year allowed the side to qualify for a major international tournament for the first time and bring the feel-good factor to Lebanese football.
Having scored his debut goal against Jordan last September — “when I came on I decided just to have a strike and lucky enough it went in, it was an amazing experience” — Bugiel suffered a hamstring injury during the friendly against Australia two months later and was not able to be a part of the Asian Cup side.
While they did not make it to the second round the Cedars certainly did not disgrace themselves, losing to the eventual winners Qatar and powerhouse Saudi Arabia before winning their first ever match at an international tournament, a 4-1 thrashing of North Korea.
“I am still gutted at not being part of the Asian Cup if I am being honest,” Bugiel admitted.
“But we had a great team spirit, I was speaking to the boys and wishing them all the best. We did well but unfortunately the results we had weren’t enough to get to the knockout stages.
“I was just gutted for the boys after all the work they had put in. To get so far and to have a few decisions that didn’t go our way and to just miss out was tough.”
Now the Asian Cup adventure is over Bugiel can look forward to what he hopes is a future full of more goals for both Lebanon and Bromley. The initial aim on the international stage is for the Cedars to try to qualify for the 2022 World Cup. Given the lack of resources compared to other Asian nations, Lebanon are always going to be up against it when trying to make it to the biggest tournament in football.
But Bugiel said the atmosphere in the camp is positive and they will go into qualifying, starting in September, backing themselves to create another shock.
“We cannot wait to get together again and play,” he said. “The team is young, you’ve also got (captain) Hassan Maatouk who can still play and we have got to try and keep that nucleus together and add in the promising young players.”
“You never know what can happen, we’d love to go on another unbeaten 16-game run, which would be great. You just have to take it game by game to get to the World Cup.”
Coming back from injury, Bugiel’s first thought is to get back to full fitness and do well for Bromley to get back into the squad.
“Wearing the national team shirt is like nothing I’ve experienced before, I am very proud of it, and representing my country is a big part of me now.”

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Bugiel’s second trip with the Lebanon squad was to North Korea — a hermit kingdom, closed off to the world with a dictator, Kim Jong-un, in charge. It was to be a trip he would both like and loathe. “I went a year ago, I don’t know how to explain it, it was just unbelievable,” the 24-year-old said. “It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before and something I don’t want to experience again, if I can put it like that. If I had the choice to go there again I probably wouldn’t. “It was not something I ever expected to do, in that sense it was great to go out there. But I’m just glad I got out, there was no WiFi, no social media — I was glad to come back here to Bromley.”


Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

Updated 2 min 22 sec ago
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Inquest begins at LA Lakers as LeBron James misses out on NBA playoffs

LONDON: The post-mortem on Los Angeles’ Lakers season has begun after the storied franchise missed out on the NBA playoffs for a sixth consecutive year this weekend.
It was not meant to be like this, especially after the signing of LeBron James — the man who single-handedly dragged his hometown team Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship in 2016 and was instrumental in Miami Heat’s dominance in the first half of the decade.
James’ mercurial talent was often the difference for those two franchises in clutch situations throughout the season, but for all the fanfare on his arrival at the Staples Center last summer, the “James Effect” has failed to materialize in California.
He has often called his own superhuman efforts in the run up to — and during — the postseason the “Playoff Mode,” but even the genius of James was not enough to put his new franchise into the picture.
It did not help that as soon as it became clear they were not going to be appear beyond April 10, made all the clearer by a recent humbling defeat to the league’s worst team (New York Knicks), James has been benched more and more by the management.
And it speaks volumes about the problems at the Lakers that it will be the first playoffs without James featuring since 2005. Not only had he played in the playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami Heat, he had also played in eight straight NBA finals.
Granted, James — a three-time NBA champion and four-time league Most Valuable Player — was adamant back in September that the task of rebuilding the Lakers, who had missed the playoffs for five straight seasons would be a long-term project.
“Obviously, I would love for the team to be in the post-season,” James said as soon as it became clear he and the team would miss out on the playoff party.
“But right now, it’s not the hand I was dealt, so you play the hand that you were dealt until the dealer shuffles the cards and you’re dealt another hand and can do that.”
So what has gone so terribly wrong with the Lakers this year?
A big factor was injuries, not only to James but to other key players, throughout the season.
Everything looked rosy for the Lakers toward the end of December when they thrashed reigning champions Golden State Warriors, but a groin injury to James was a sign of the bad run to come. In his 17-game absence, the Lakers won just six games.
Then Lonzo Ball sprained an ankle in January, leaving the Lakers defense very vulnerable while Brandon Ingram, who had been influential in the team reaching the dizzying heights of fourth place in the Western Conference, was ruled out for the rest of the season due to a blood clot in his arm. Those certainly were damaging injuries.
The Lakers, also, have built too much of the team and its tactics around James. They have a good core of young talent in Ball, Ingram and Kyle Kuzuma, but management has not utilized them nearly well enough. Instead, for the first half of the season definitely, there was too much focus put on James and he was expected to win games almost by himself. Even the greatest player of a generation needs help from time to time.
The boardroom has to take some responsibility, too. Letting players like Brook Lopez (having a remarkable season with this year’s huge surprise package the Milwaukee Bucks), Julius Randle who averages 20 points per game at New Orleans and Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell (picked as an All-Star this year) leave was a major mistake on the Lakers’ part.
There will need to be a big rethink in the off-season at the Lakers, but with James admitting a break from the high-pressure playoffs will give him time to “recalibrate body and mind,” you cannot rule out “King James” coming back better and stronger than ever to claim a fourth NBA title and bring back the good times to LA.