Once again Emile Rustom has left his post as the head coach of Lebanon’s national football team and again he has cited internal administrative problems.
When looking for a replacement, Lebanon could stand to look over the waters for inspiration. The U.S. national team has just hired German legend Jurgen Klinsmann as coach, a man who will holistically revamp the entire structure of American football. Klinsmann, who did endure something of a rotten spell with Bayern Munich several years ago, got the job off the back of his sterling work with the German national team between 2004-06. In just two short years, Klinsmann – and notably his assistant Joachim Loew – completely overhauled the way Germany created its players.
Gone were the lumbering players and a boorish, methodical – if highly successful – style of play; in came a wave of fresh young players with pace, precision and technique.
The German FA took on everything Klinsmann proposed and filtered all his ideas through to the lowest age group of any team in the country. The 2010 World Cup gave every country a glimpse of what happens when a country takes full control of its youth systems and develops a clear and well organized vision than can be laid out across the board. Spain and Germany have been the greatest practitioners of this style and they were both the most entertaining and successful teams in the tournament.
Klinsmann will now take his vision to a country of almost infinite resources and population.
It can’t be suggested that Lebanon hire someone of the caliber of Klinsmann or ensure that no child is trained by anyone other than a fully qualified coach, but an ethos can be introduced.
Lebanon is still a long way behind thinking about qualifying for the Asian Cup by any means other than as hosts, but they can set the wheels in motion.
Walking through the corridors of the Lebanese Football Federation and those of most teams in the country is to see the embodiment of chaos. Almost nothing is set in stone and there is little to no collective thinking, planning or acting.
Without sounding like a broken record, pessimism shouldn’t get in the way. There are so many countries – mostly in eastern Europe – that have almost identical resources, population and instability but have forged several great sports teams.
Lebanon need to take small steps each year and they can start with a new coach. There are plenty of highly trained young coaches with long-term visions just waiting to get their teeth into a job. Even the British Virgin Islands managed to attract a young Andre Villas Boas, now manager of Chelsea. He didn’t last long in the job but he came with a slew of ideas to help revamp a country’s sporting culture.
Lebanon, in a way, are in a nice position. They are not England, there is no system to overhaul and there are few people who need to change their habits. Lebanon can start from the ground up – investing initially in extra football fields and inclusive footballing schemes would be a start.
Much of the hard work will be done for them by NGOs such as CCPA that have already started 120 football clubs – with over 3,000 young players – in Lebanon. With so little in place, the federation can lay down a philosophy that can be carried by every sports club in the country. A sound footballing ethos can help define what it is to be a Lebanese player and give every young sportsman a sense of identity. Every young footballer in Germany and Spain has a keen sense of what is expected of them and what skills they are to learn and what style they are to conform to thanks to a well positioned system.
A philosophy is so much stronger than anything else. Lebanese people are proud of their identity and their characteristics; why not translate those over into a sporting context?
With so few people teaching football in Lebanon, it wouldn’t be hard to get the head of every academy and sports club in Lebanon into a room and sell their new doctrine to those that can implement it. Once a style and ideal is set in place, then the hard work can start.
For the next manager of Lebanon, there are immediate on-pitch concerns that need addressing. A full scale search for the country’s best representatives needs to be made. Lebanon’s best player Hassan Maatouk is a product of Futsal and that code of football is still his primary instinct. He isn’t the only good Futsal player in Lebanon, that mountain needs to be mined. His close control and flair should be something of a blueprint for the national team that could attract at least a cursory crowd if they knew attractive football would be available.
The private academies are bursting at the seams with players that should represent Lebanon at all age groups. Most kids in private academies feel disenfranchised with the national team, bridging the gap now will ensure that no future stars slip through the net.