There is little doubt that coaching a national team and a club side are two very different jobs. Unable to work with their squads on a daily basis, and forced to cram training into short get-together periods, the national coach also needs to travel far and wide to watch players in action. These are just some of the factors that test the patience of even the most experienced supremos.
When you throw the delicate geopolitical situation of Palestine into the mix, there are few coaches who would be willing to take up the challenge. Yet that is exactly what Franco-Algerian strategist Moussa Bezaz has done, having held the Palestinian national team reins since July 2009.
“I’m entirely at the disposal of the (Palestinian) Football Association,” explained Bezaz in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “It’s true that I was brought in to coach the senior side, but I also oversee all the other national teams. I put their youth-team structure in place and I’m in the process of putting a staff together, which means I have a lot of areas to keep an eye on. On top of which I divide my time between Palestine and France, so I’m racking up the air miles. There’s still an enormous amount of work to do but things are slowly falling into place.”
‘Everybody wants to make progress’
With over 300 matches in France’s second tier behind him during his spells in charge of Chaumont, Charleville, Epinal and Nancy, allied to three years as head of development at United Arab Emirates outfit Al Ain, Bezaz has thoroughly enjoyed his Palestinian experience thus far. “I’ve been received with so much respect and kindness,” said the former professional defender.
“The Palestinian people are very engaging and do everything they can to make you feel at home. Above all, it’s a country which loves football. Everybody is willing to listen and wants to make progress, which is a real bonus,” added Bezaz, who began his tenure by watching the team lose 3-0 then 4-0 away to Iraq and 3-1 in China PR in three friendlies staged just after he took over the post back in July 2009.
“Thanks to FIFA and the Goal Project, we do have some quality facilities at our disposal,” continued the coach on the size of the task facing his team. “But the country has just eight pitches to share between no fewer than 300 clubs. It’s not enough.”
However, results have improved after those early reverses, with The Knights picking up 1-1 draws against the UAE and Sudan and a goalless draw with Mauritania since October 2009 – a period that has featured just two defeats, against Yemen (3-1) and Iraq (3-0). “In my previous roles, when I was building a team, all I had to do was ask myself one question: will this player improve the team as a whole?” said Bezaz on the selection dilemmas he faces.
“But here I’ve got so many external factors to take into account. It’s not about sport. I’m interested in any lad who is Palestinian and is a good footballer: it’s as simple as that. I don’t care about his religion, what region he lives in or where he comes from.”
An uphill task
In the face of the painstaking bureaucratic processes required to re-enter Palestinian territory or to leave the area to play matches abroad, The Knights’ supremo is rarely able to field his strongest line-up, while friendly encounters on home soil have proved impossible for several years now. “Our opponents pull out often at the last moment,” said Bezaz. “And in terms of playing abroad, we’re not welcome everywhere. To date, I’ve only ever been able to coach my team in away matches and I’ve never been able to field my best XI.
“More than anything else, it’s the lack of freedom of movement for my players which most frustrates me. I’m hoping that with the support of FIFA and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the efforts of FA President Jibril Al Rajoub, we’ll be able to take steps forward in that regard,” said the 52-year-old supremo, before ending the interview on an optimistic note for Palestinian football and the region as a whole.
“I hope that Israel and Palestine can come to an agreement soon so that everybody can finally live in peace. There’s goodwill on both sides, of that I’m certain.”