Normally the preserve of European and Brazilian coaches, Asian football boasts very few Uruguayan tacticians. But with his in-depth knowledge of the Qatari league and extensive international experience, Jorge Fossati was an obvious candidate to lead the national team's push for a place at South Africa 2010.
As shrewd a football analyst as they come, the former Penarol, Cerro Porteno and Uruguay boss spoke to FIFA.com about his experiences in the heat and dust of Qatar and assessed the country's chances of reaching the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the first time.
FIFA.com: Qatar lost 3-0 to Australia in their opening
Asian qualifying match. What did you make of the game?
Jorge Fossati: Australia are among the top two or three teams in Asia and they've got around 30 players in Europe. When the draw was made we didn't really bank on getting a result there, so the most important thing was seeing what conclusions we could draw from the game. You also have to remember we were missing three or four very important players.
What do Qatar need to reach South Africa?
It's not easy to change mindsets and attitudes just like that. In my view, one of the things you need to work on with Qatari players is their lack of confidence, particularly when they play away. And that explains what happened against Australia. In the first ten minutes we did what we'd talked about doing, but then we started to sit back for some reason and gave them all the space they needed to send cross after cross into the box.
How are you going to bring about that change?
By trying to drum things into the players' minds. Unfortunately, with national teams you don't work with the players every day and they spend a lot more time with their clubs. Because of the standard of play here they don't get to see the mistakes they make. They can get away with some mistakes in the domestic league, but in internationals those errors can be fatal.
Some members of the Qatar squad were born outside the
country and that has been a source of controversy.
You mustn't forget that this is a country with a population of only 250,000, which makes it very hard to select a national team using only players born and bred here. The foreigners fill the spaces where there are no home-grown players.
Would it help if Qatari footballers went and played in
Of course it would. Sometimes I feel that instead of bringing the world to Qatar, we should take Qatar to the world. I'm not saying the local league isn't very good but international experience is absolutely essential.
Does it help having so many foreigners in the
My belief is that good foreign signings are usually a very positive thing because they're like a yardstick for local players to measure themselves against. With so few home-grown footballers here in Qatar, it would be very difficult for the local guys to reach a good standard without competing against foreigners.
There are also a lot of big-name foreign coaches coming
I think the FA needs to exert some control to make sure the coaches coming to Qatar really come here to work. Since I came to the country I've seen some very well-known managers who really should have left more of a legacy when you consider their records in the game. Not all the coaches who have come here did so to work hard and leave something behind.
How have you adapted to such a different culture?
I didn't have any problems although there are a few things you need to bear in mind. For example, you have to make sure training sessions don't clash with prayer time. As for everything else, Qatari people are very friendly and respectful too, as long you respect them. It did take them a little while to adapt to the way I work, though, and that was difficult.
What do you mean exactly?
When I arrived at the club I was with I organised a training session one morning. Only five players turned up. 'They're not used to training twice a day,' they told me. If you're sure of your working methods those are the kind of situations in which you have to make them adapt to you. I stuck to my guns, though, because I'm the one who has to decide how we work, it's not worthwhile otherwise. I had to make them see that in professional football there are certain paths that you might not know very well but which you have to take anyway.
And how did they react?
Really well. They've have everything they need to do a good job. If you don't work here it's because you don't want to. The authorities offer tremendous support as well and in terms of infrastructure you couldn't wish for more. It's your duty to be responsible and professional, to get the message across to the players.
On a personal level, is it not difficult to be so far from
Yes, I miss home a lot. It's not the first time I've been abroad and the world's a smaller place now, but it's harder the older you get. It's difficult when things happen and you're far away. Luckily my wife has always been there to support me. Two of my three daughters are also here with their husbands at the moment. There's nothing better than having your loved ones with you. I do miss my other daughter and her baby, but I've got a two-year-old granddaughter in Doha. She's the queen of the house and it would be tough without her around.
How much longer do you think you will be away from
I've tried to tell myself that I don't know when I'll be going back to Uruguay. And for professional reasons I'm not planning to return just yet. I might move a little closer to home. One thing I am sure about is that I'll give it everything I've got in Qatar and when I leave the national team I'll have a change of scene.
What are your objectives beyond that?
I've been lucky enough to coach some big teams in South America and some national sides, but I still haven't worked in Europe and that's something I'd love to do. Of course my goal is to reach the World Cup finals before then, and fulfilling that dream for the Qatari people is big challenge for me.
Especially having taken Uruguay so close to qualifying for
The fact is I'm very proud of what I did then. People had been saying for a long time that the Europe-based players didn't want to play for the national team. I was always convinced that wasn't true and that something must have been wrong with the set-up for that to be the case. I feel we changed that mentality and although we didn't qualify, I was very happy to have coached and led that team.
One last question. How do think Uruguay are doing?
Very well. I think I did some important things in my time there and they're still in place, especially that respect for the national team. We've got a great generation of players too. If Uruguay can keep playing the way they have been, particularly the performance against Brazil, I think they'll make it to South Africa.