By Waleed Abdul Hadi, Special to Arab News
Friday 4 May 2001
Last Update 4 May 2001 2:18 am
JEDDAH, 4 May — In today’s world sports have assumed such an important place that a country’s status among the comity of nations virtually depends on them. A similarity can be drawn with a sports club whose status and performance depend greatly on the kind of coaching its players get. In fact, coaching is now reckoned as the backbone of a sports team. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />
These were some of the observations made by Hassan Khalifa, former goalkeeper and current assistant coach of Al-Ittihad, a local soccer club, which on Wednesday bagged the coveted Crown Prince Cup, when Arab News interviewed him recently. It is Hassan who has been largely responsible to put Al-Ittihad in the top rung of the ladder that it occupies today.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q. Would you like to tell us all about your career?
A. I started my career with an under-19 youth team in 1987 and I considered it as a jump start because my club achieved the Kingdom’s championship without losing a single match. The next year, I took the opportunity to play with the national team, which won the Asian Cup played in Qatar. In 1989 I took part in youth world cups played in Canada and the Kingdom. I also played in the World Cup qualifier preliminaries in 1994. But after playing so many international championships, I decided to quit. But my club needed my services, so I continued to play for my club until last year. However, after receiving the cup from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Fahd, I stopped playing and offered my services to my club and the Kingdom’s team.
Q. What was the position of the team under Dotsiena?
A. That period has already passed with its good and bad memories, but generally it was not as black as painted. Dotsiena did all what he can do for the betterment of the team and players. But everybody has his merits and shortcomings, I myself benefited a lot from his experience, especially when he had been a coach of the teams from Italy and Ghana. I think either he was not so lucky with us, or I didn’t reach the level to assess the caliber of such an experienced coach.
Q. What was your role when you conveyed players’ demands to the ex-coach?
A. I played my role quite well and I tried my best to bridge the gap between the players and the coach. As you know I was their former colleague, and enjoy a good rapport with them. I tried to cooperate with both sides, sometimes he responded up to a certain limit.
Q. Who was responsible for the team’s failure in recent past?
A. I don’t want make anyone a scapegoat. It’s everyone’s responsibility. When victory is attributed to all, failure also should be shared by all. Football is a teamwork job — players, coach and management — all work as one team; merely putting blame on anybody will lead to the entire team’s failure.
Q. Is it true that the team is playing without its usual spirit, though their salaries and bonuses are regularly paid in contrast to the past years when payments had been delayed for months. Do you think the team never lost its winning spirit?
A. The team is playing with high spirit. We should be fair with players. Many important players were absent from matches and their absence affected the results. Once I noticed that 10 international players were absent at the same time.
Q. As an assistant coach, who allowed players to celebrate the qualification though one match was still to be played?
A. We are all responsible as coaches, players, and management, which paid a generous rewards to players which seemed as if we had already qualified.
Q. Can you make any significant improvement in the remaining matches?
A. There will be no big change, though I know what the players want. But there is not much time. My experience as a coach is only of 7 months, however, I dealt with many international coaches so I will try to manage till the new coach arrives. Actually I need intensified courses before I can lead a big team like Ittihad.
Q. Do you think the team will continue to play with the same tactics of the former Italian coach, or the same problems will continue?
A. No, there definitely will be a change according to the demands of the players and their abilities. However, it will be a limited change, because I have no time.
Q. Why did you quit early. Goalkeepers are known to stay for a long time in the field, especially with professionalism?
A. I’m 34-year-old, and I stayed more than any other goalkeeper in Ittihad. I played for almost 14 years from 1987 to 2000. But my age doesn’t allow me to match the skills of young blood. One more thing is my job with Aramco prevented me from playing as a professional. My professional era began in 1993 when I was at my peak, but professionalism demands great efforts, and I couldn’t compete with young players so I preferred to continue as an amateur.
Q. As a goalkeeper, do you think you might turn out to be more successful than any other player?
A. Certainly, the goalkeeper is the last player in a team who can see the field position better than the other players i.e. he is always directing the players and the coach always gives his guidance to the goalkeeper to convey it to the players. That’s how you see that the goalkeeper always keeps shouting in the course of a match.
Q. Does the goalkeeper need more training courses than others if he becomes a coach?
A: It depends on the player’s ability and experience. What makes one a good coach is the knowledge, practice, experience, and talent. Players do differ in strategies and techniques and they differ in views when they become coaches.
Q. For professionals there is a limit for making wrong passes, but in Ittihad that limit seems to be high, why?
A. Actually, the problem arises with under-16 and under-19 teams. Due to insufficiency of resources and time, we cannot train them more than an hour a day, and matches played are not more than 10 per season, so the player grows up with lack of basic techniques. But it is the coach’s duty to overcome players’ deficiencies with collective teamwork.
Q. Do our players imbibe professionalism and exhibit it?
A: You cannot call their’s professionalism in its true sense due to some factors, one of them being social traditions. Professionalism is comparatively a new phenomenon here. It came about just seven years ago, which is a very short period compared to other countries. Another factor that is causing concern is that payments to players are delayed, sometimes up to six months, barring two clubs which pay in time. One must remember that players too have families. How do you expect them to give their best when their payments on which their families depend are always late.
Q. If you are offered the position of a coach, will you accept it?
A: I prefer to be an assistant coach as it helps me to benefit from the experience of international coaches. Even I attend refresher courses, but I prefer to coach youth teams.
Q: Do you share the idea of bringing players from outside the club, and what about youth teams?
A: Yes, I do agree with the idea because it’s a need of the hour. People don’t care about the identity of the player, they just want victories by any means.