In football there are times when money, power & politics are entering the field and changing the climate & chemistry of a team, its players and maybe its fortune too.
In the past months, a story like this is rocking the Palestinian football reality.
It all started when various reports claimed that Palestine’s successful manager, local coach Abed Al-Nasser Barakat is about to quit his job to an unexpected reason. A foreign coach was reportedly ready to take upon his post.
Barakat, was in charge of Palestine’s highest FIFA ranking ever - 70th - and in the past few years was the face of the major progress Al-Fida’i has done, including the participation at the 2015 Asian Cup & the qualification for the 2019 edition of the tournament. It was more than that - Barakat was the Fida’i himself. An ex-construction worker who left his job to devoted himself for coaching.
Few days after the rumours were spread, the picture became clearer but made the situation more complicated. Photos of Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestinian FA, Turki Al-Sheikh, President of the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation & the strongest man in Arab/Middle Eastern football at the moment , and - Julio Cesar Baldievso, a Bolivian football coach, all signing contracts were published. Those photos became viral and encouraged the discussion weather Barakat will continue at his successful work or not, but after he himself published an open letter on Facebook, things were reassured - Barakat was out, Baldivieso stepped in. Barakat’s departure, seemed as a moral hit to everyone involved with the national team.
Julio Cesar Baldivieso is a Bolivian football personality, who has a quite interesting experience as a coach. Before signing with Rajoub & Al-Sheikh, Baldivieso coached mainly Bolivian teams and the Bolivian national team for one year. As a player, he played in Argentina, Japan, Ecuador, Saudi Arabia & Qatar, while taking part at the Bolivian national team in the 1994 World Cup and . Yet, he is not considered as a notable football coach by South American terms, to say the least. Moreover, he was charged with nepotism not too long ago.
He got famous worldwide in 2008, for placing a 12 years old kid as a player in one his teams in Bolivia, who happened to be his son. If that’s not enough, three years later the duo were back at Aurora but there was still plenty of drama with the older Baldivieso filmed kicking his son as they went into the dressing rooms at halftime.
Al-Sheikh is Everywhere
So how come such a manager, who does not speaks the language, who has no adequate experience & or the right abilities, become the manager of one of the world’s most evolving national teams? It’s simple - money. And power. And everything in between.
Turki Al-Sheikh, the strongest personality in Arab football, was highly involved in the deal. Baldivieso, so has been claimed, is very close to Al-Sheikh from the time the Bolivian played for Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia. The latter, arguably tried to fetch few birds on the same time - get Baldivieso a job in a highly covered national team, to guarantee that a strong character such Rajoub will be on his side in FIFA & AFC issues, and improving the slumping Saudi reputation in the Middle East and Palestine, after few years of a negative relations, after the Saudi national team has refused to play the 2018 World Cup qualification in Al-Ram, near Jerusalem, claiming it is a match on “Occupied soil”.
According to reports, Al-Sheikh offered Rajoub a donation of around $1 Million dollars for the Palestinian League, if the he will accept to take Baldivieso as a coach. Judging the League’s progress since the Baldivieso deal, around 4 months ago, not a million have been invested and not one dollar. But when Turki asks for something, he usually gets it.
Where is Rajoub?
Eventually, in the reality of Asian & Palestinian football, you won’t walk away on an offer like Rajoub got from Turki. A guarantee for a 1 million dollar aid directly to the local football league is not a small matter for Palestine, but its more than that - Rajoub is no longer in a position he can decline a Saudi offer. He needs their support in various of issues, within the AFC, FIFA and in the near future - maybe even the Arab League or the United Nations. Who knows. Regarding the improvement in relations between Saudi Arabia, the US & Israel, Rajoub had to have his bite from this relationship that basically was taking part above his head, and that’s pretty understandable.
The problem started when Baldivieso asked for a 40 days camp with the national team, in the middle of the season. The Palestinian League is still a fragile creature. It runs from 2010/11 and there were problems ever since. This year there was an improvement in the general level, and stopping the season a moment before the money time of the season wasn’t the best decision in terms of the actual product. But Rajoub approved it.
Palestine went to play three matches in this time. Algeria U23 in Algiers, Bahrain in Manama and Oman in Muscat. 0 goals, 2 conceded, 1 draw & 2 losses. In addition, a general unrest in the national camp were shouting out from these games. The players are divided. Some of them are supportive towards the new coach, who basically doesn’t fully understand the situation, some of them are missing Barakat and in the game against Bahrain and Oman, has preformed slightly bad. The unity of the dressing room was always Palestine’s point of strength, and this story exposed problems among the players, who apparently did not know how to react to this bizarre situation.
If that wasn’t enough, it was decided in CAS, FIFA Arbitrary body, that the Palestinian FA will pay ex-coach Jamal Mahmoud, 130,000$ - a debt from the 2015 Asian Cup qualification campaign. From 1 million to 870,000 already. Mahmoud, who’s counted as the best Palestinian coach around is now leading Al-Wehdat to an impressive title in Jordan. Interesting coincidence.
Menawhile, the Palestinian national team fans, who usually support it regardless any political or administrative situationو has launched a campaign against Baldivieso and his crew with the hashtag: #روحواـخوليو (Go away Julio).
It’s Julio’s turn
Palestine’s national team is a project that keeps progressing all the time. Al-Fida’i will play the coming up Asian Cup in in the UAE as a team from POT 2, the second best group of teams, they improved their ranking in Asia & Worldwide and most importantly - went through Israel in the famous FIFA ranking. Before all the mess in the coach position, Palestine was having its best international football era, ever.
What will Julio Baldivieso will make out of it? This question has to be directed to Rajoub. As everything else in Palestinian football, this issue is on his shoulders.