Though still just 27, Fahed Attal is already firmly established as a legend of Palestinian football. The talented striker is his country’s all-time leading goalscorer and a standard-bearer for a nation battling to develop the beautiful game. Here, Attal speaks to FIFA.com about his ambitions and hopes for Palestine, and football’s wider development.
FIFA.com: Can you tell us about how your career started and how it has developed since? How were you spotted?
Fahed Attal: I started my career in the Islamic Qalqilya club in 2000 and, from there, was called up to the Palestinian national team in 2005. I made myself known playing for the national team and started a professional career abroad. I played five seasons in Jordan, four with Al Jazeera and one with Al Wahdat, and while I was there I achieved many titles. In 2006, I was nominated by the Asian Football Confederation as one of ten candidates for AFC Player of the Year Award, I also finished top scorer in the AFC Challenge Cup, and was named the best foreign-based Palestinian player. I was able to take part in many great tournaments and qualifying competitions such as the Asian Cup, the World Cup and the West Asian Championships. Then I returned home, joined Shabab Al Khaleel (Hebron), and have been playing with them in the West Bank Premier League. We finished second last year, and this year we are going for the title.
And what are your best and worst memories as a player?
My best memory was the goal I scored with the national team against Singapore, and the worst – as for any player – is being injured. Unfortunately, I recently picked up quite a bad injury.
What do you think of football development these days? FIFA invests heavily in development; does the world governing body play an essential role?
FIFA contributes a lot by developing regular competitions within the leagues, governing the rules, promoting women’s football and so on. All this is sign of the evolution of soccer. FIFA has also helped to develop football in Palestine, especially with the establishment of pitches in Palestine, which encouraged the public to become involved and was also a real boost to the national team and local clubs. FIFA has also played a major role in the training of referees and coaches through courses and seminars. It’s contributing to creating a powerful sport.
Although Palestinian football has improved significantly in recent years, where do you think further improvements are required?
Palestinian football has evolved a lot and we can now compete with other countries in Asia and the Arabic world. The main obstacles Palestinian football have is the difficulty our players face in moving around, and the lack of infrastructure. A solid organisation also needs to be developed to help younger players.
Can you explain the main difficulties you need to overcome, both in sporting and in human terms?
As a professional player, I believe the main difficulty is maintaining the aim of making Palestinian football professional thought the development of technique and skills, while also preserving the creative, fun and entertaining aspects of this lively sport. Palestinian players fear the future because playing professionally does not guarantee a permanent source of income. Players hence rely on other jobs for their income, and this inevitably affects their athletic performance.
What is your opinion on women’s football?
Women’s football in Palestine is a new phenomenon, and I personally encourage it. The Palestinian women’s team is strong but it needs to be supported if it is going to evolve. The team reflects the evolution of Palestine.
Some ex-professional players have become involved in beach soccer. Have you also tried your hand at this discipline?
I have never played this kind of football personally, but a lot of my colleagues play beach soccer, especially in the Gaza strip as they have the beaches to make it easy for them to practice. They have also formed a national team that is accomplishing important achievements.
Like beach soccer, futsal is developing all over the world. What do you make of its rapid expansion?
For me, futsal is a very fun and beautiful game. It exists in Palestine but it needs greater attention and to have the required infrastructure.
You are the Palestine national team’s all-time leading scorer. How do you feel about that?
I am very proud and glad, but I see it as a collective and not a personal success. Representing my country is a great honour, and a huge source of motivation.
Your career has taken you to several different clubs, and football has evolved greatly during that time. What is your perception of the game today?
Each player changes his perception of football through his own experience in different clubs. I have learned that a true professional needs to be multi-skilled and to develop high physical and technical capacities.
How can a young player go about emulating your achievements?
Players who want to become professional need to exploit the opportunities given to them in life, and to reinvent themselves constantly. A professional player should use his talent and skill to develop a new way of playing. He also has to learn from other players.
You are an idol for many youngsters, but who were your heroes when you were growing up? Who inspired you?
From the start, I've modelled myself on my coach, Azmi Nassar. He discovered my talent in football and trained me to acquire more skills. If I go into coaching later, his impact on the way I see football will be important.
In your view, what are the main differences between professional football and the amateur game?
There is a big difference between professional and amateur football. It’s a financial issue first. In many countries, there are no professional leagues because of a lack of money. There is a strong demand but any professional project can’t succeed because of very low wages and delays in paying those wages. These are obstacles to the development of professional football. Added to that, players are subject to complex laws and regulations. In amateur football you are just playing for pleasure without all these issues.
If you take a look back at your journey from a young amateur to being a cornerstone of your national team, what is the main thing you would like to change?
A professional football player will face many difficulties during his career. For this reason, players should learn to develop and know themselves and the weakness they have. I wish I’d had more time to train and to improve my skills.
Do you see yourself becoming involved in football development and grassroots football?
Though all my experiences at different clubs, I continue to learn every day, and I think I can later share these experiences with people: inventing exercises to improve skills, managing or teaching football to children.