Iraq have somehow qualified from the first stage of the World Cup Qualifiers group after a series of disastrous results and performances. Radhi Shenaishil, who took over from the calamitous Hakeem Shakir, somehow steadied a sinking ship and pushed Iraq to four place in the Asian Cup 2015. Sadly, his appointment was only on a temporary basis, with him soon returning to his club duties with Qatar Sports Club.
Following Radhi’s absence, it seemed that Iraq were destined for inevitable mediocrity and continuous disappointment. Initially, it was agreed that only a foreign coach would do to fill the managerial void. Budget constraints naturally limited the number of managers considered until Swansea legend, Džemal Hadžiabdić, also known as Jamal Haji, was awarded the position. The Bosnian’s tenure with the national team lasted an comical 24 hours before the manager left his role for undisclosed reasons. There were rumours of threats made towards Džemal’s safety, amongst other theories raised, however, nothing has been proven and none of the parties involved have disclosed any significant information on the matter.
After the appointment of Džemal brushed off as yet another failed experiment with the national team, attention then turned to Iraqi managers. For some peculiar reason, the Iraqi FA had now turned its back on the importance of having a foreign coach. How such a change of heart can arise in a matter of days is beyond me, but the lack of strategic long-term planning was once again made clear for all to see.
Akram Salman took over the national team and experienced two underwhelming victories over Congo D.R. Both games were friendlies and were simply arranged as easy victories to shoot Iraq up the Fifa rankings and into friendlier seeds for the first stage of the World Cup Qualifier draws. The wins were successful in awarding Iraq with an incredibly easy group, or so we were led to believe. However, three matches into his tenure and Akram Salman walked away from his post – a hammering to Japan proving to be the final nail in the coffin. Alas, the position proved too challenging for him and the man made the noble decision of walking away from a difficult situation before Iraq were really into the thick of it.The football was dire, unorganised and uninspiring. He did his best but was simply not up for the job.
Yahya Alwan picked up exactly where Akram Salman left off, with Iraq somehow getting worse with every match played. Unfortunately for him, and for the fans, Iraq were now well into their qualifying campaign. Dropped points proved aplenty and disappointing performances were all the norm. Two wins over minnows Chinese Taipei proving the only fruits to Alwan’s labour. The Iraqi FA eventually agreed to sack him from his position, with the current Iraq Olympic team coach, Abdul Ghani Shahad, taking over as interim manager for the one match against Vietnam, a crucial decider and a must-win game. The match proved to be the only game over the last year where Iraq actually passed the ball and controlled the midfield, albeit for very brief periods. Such has been the state of Iraqi football, passing the ball is now considered an achievement. A lucky Mohanned Abdul-Raheem goal was enough to send Iraq through to the final qualifying stage of the Fifa World Cup 2018.
Fourteen months on from Radhi Shenaishil leading Iraq to an impressive fourth place position in the Asian Cup 2015, Iraq are now back to square one, with the 49 year old picking up the mess left by his predecessors. Unlike Alwan and co, Radhi is known for his attention to fitness and impressive man management. Moreover, he shows no preferences to local or expat footballers, citing all Iraqi players as equals worthy of representing their country. Moreover, he is a no-nonsense manager who demands all football decisions to be made on his accord with external influence being reduced to an absolute minimum.
It is hoped that Rashi will replicate the fantastic changing room atmosphere he had successfully created during his previous reign as head coach. However, it is important to keep things in perspective and not expect any miracles from a man who is having to deal with a dire situation made even worse by a corrupt and useless FA. Radhi’s appointment confirms him as Iraq’s sixth manager since November 2014 – a truly remarkable feat by every stretch.
The next stage of qualification is a tough ask given the best of times, but the appointment of Radhi Shenaishil is definitely the right one in order to give Iraq the best chance of qualifying to the World Cup as possible. It’s just a shame that his arrival has coincided with one of the bleakest times in recent footballing history for the Iraqi national team. We can only hope that he can turn things around quickly and exerts his own influence over the changing room with long-term lingerers Noor Sabri and Younis Mahmoud expected to follow Salam Shakir into retirement. Maybe things will finally start to change with the old guard no longer forcing their demands onto the manager.