As per the norm in Iraq, any form of positive progress must be resisted with maximum hostility. Every one step in the right direction will inevitably be met by ten other steps backwards. The Iraqi national team is of course no exception to this rule, where countless accounts of corruption and unethical behaviour has created a spiral of failure for all those involved in the sport. Sadly, this corrosive attitude continues to prevent the country from fulfilling any of its promising potential.
Iraqi national team coach Radhi Shenaishil took over a depleted squad after the abysmal rule of Hakim Shakir, Yahya Alwan and Akram Salman.
The players looked short of any confidence and skill. Team tactics were to simply hoof the ball up the park and hope something happens at the end of it. Through a miracle, the team somehow managed to scrape through to the final World Cup 2018 qualification stages. This came despite the fact that their initial group consisted of minnows Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Vietnam. Radhi was promised patience and funding in order to help develop a squad that can put forward a strong challenge for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 – it was made clear that qualification for Russia 2018 was an unrealistic task given the circumstances and that the manager can bide his time digging Iraq out of the enormous hole it has found itself in.
Radhi’s time as manager hasn’t exactly gone to plan. At times, his side have performed well and yet they have nothing to show for their efforts. The ‘home’ leg against Saudi Arabia was single-handedly decided by a shocking refereeing performance, whereas a final minute header away to Japan sealed victory for the Samurai Blue. The only win of the group came against Thailand, who are by far the weakest side in the group. With qualification to the Russia 2018 all but over, the growing frustrations of the Iraqi fanbase spilled over and forced the Iraqi FA’a hand, who dismissed Radhi from his position.
On Sunday, Radhi met up with members of the Iraqi FA and Olympic Committee. Raad Hamoudi, the president of the Olympic Committee, asked for Radhi to step down from his position following ongoing protests from fans. Radhi was keen to fight for his position and turned down the request. Despite this, Radhi’s contract was terminated the very next day, along with the dismissal of his entire backroom staff. However, this was not enough to appease the protesting fans, who were now being led by Iraqi footballing legends Ahmed Radhi and Younis Mahmoud. They are asking for the entire Iraqi FA to step down from their positions.
Despite our defence of Radhi, he has hardly been flawless in his role. There are many question marks that remain unanswered, including his poor man-management skills which have seen Brwa Nouri and Osama Rashid out of the squad. However, looking at the bigger picture, Radhi’s performances have not been out of the ordinary for the national team. Iraq has only ever won 4 qualifying matches during the final stages of World Cup Qualification. The so called ‘Golden Generation’, which included the likes of Nashat Akram and Younis Mahmoud also failed miserably in their quest for World Cup qualification.
It seems bizarre that Radhi is somehow expected to miraculously turn things around and achieve what nobody else has done since 1986 – especially given the circumstances in which he took over. Fans are instead blinded by the false image of Iraq being a major footballing force in Asia, when the only success of note has been the 2007 AFC Asian Cup victory. Despite this, Iraq has nothing to show for its efforts and resorts to using overaged footballers in youth tournaments to give the appearance of progress. Until we can sit down and discuss these serious matters, Iraq will never break out of this dangerous cycle. Instead, fans will criticise anybody who dares to mention these taboo topics.
Fingers should instead be firmly pointed at a system that continuously produces disappointments. The Iraqi FA have proven time and time again to be the underlining factor in the failures of the national team. Since 2004, Iraq have had 20 different managerial appointments, which equates to a new manager every 8 months. This obvious lack of patience and planning indicates a far bigger problem that simply changing a manager cannot solve.
“The members of the FA surrendered to some of the extortionists fans, who are manipulating the team through the media to achieve their goals.
It is certainly the sporting public who failed to love and support the team and did not have the patience of our prophet Ayoub.” – Radhi Shenaishil
The progress under Radhi was not incredible, but it was clearly a step in the right direction. The team began to pass the ball well and we saw the side transitioning towards a 3-5-1 system, which made the midfield significantly harder to break down compared to recent years. However, with Radhi now gone, we can safely say that any progress achieved over recent months will be erased instantaneously. Iraq can find itself back in the same situation it found itself under when Hakim Shakir was manager – a terrifying thought indeed. This is simply yet another case of “one step forward, ten steps back”, or, as Radhi recently stated, “we’re back to step zero”.
There have been five candidates shortlisted to take over from Shenaishil, all of whom are foreign coaches:
- Marcos Paqueta
- Frank Rijkaard
- Claudio Ranieri
- Walter Zenga
It remains unknown whether any formal offers have been made to the potential candidates. Marcos Paqueta, favourite for the position, has confirmed that the Iraqi FA have been in touch to discuss the possibility of the Brazilian coach taking over from Radhi. Marcos has an impressive CV that includes managing Brazil’s u17 and u20, Qatar’s Al-Gharafa, Flamengo, Fluminense and the Saudi national team.