Talk of Gandhi as Syrian football looks for greater heights

Sitting barely two and half kilometres from the Mahatma’s Ashram here upon river Sabarmati, Fajer Ebrahim, the head coach of Syria, says he feels great being at the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi.

Fajer Ebrahim, the head coach of Syria, says reading about Mahatma Gandhi gives him peace of mind.   -  AFP

The apostle of peace and non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi, is leading the path with his preaching as Syria looks to rebuild from the rubbles of war. Fajer Ebrahim, the head coach of Syrian national football team, conveys this message sitting barely two and half kilometres from the Mahatma’s Ashram here upon river Sabarmati.

“Reading Gandhi gives me peace of mind and believe me, there is a huge following of him in Syria where people are getting wary of war,” Ebrahim echoed the sentiments that keep the Mahatma’s teachings relevant in the present world. “It really feels great to be here at the birth-place of Gandhi. He is a great teacher and what he said about non-violence is fantastically universal. You see how a huge population in India co-exists with so many religions. It is because you had leaders like Gandhi,” Ebrahim tries to put together his understanding of the Mahatma gathered from the movies and books he could access in his country.

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The 55-year-old coach, who helmed the Syrian national team in more than 50 matches in the last 13 years, links his philosophical inclination to the spirit of universal brotherhood that helped football survive the turmoil. “Syria has made it to the Asian Cup twice, once at the start of the war in 2011 and then in 2019 when peace is settling down. We had almost made it to the last World Cup but narrowly lost to Australia in the continental play-offs. All these things indicate that football is unaffected by political problems in our country,” says Ebrahim, who was reinstated as the head coach earlier this year after his German predecessor Bernd Stange lost his job following Syria’s Asian Cup exit. “We are building up a new generation of players who will represent Syrian football in future. Keeping this mission in mind we have brought 19 players from our youth system here in a squad of 22,” Ebrahim added.

“There is no dearth of football talents in the country which is evident in the success of players like Omar Khribin, who became the AFC player of the year (2017). We also have another prominent name in Omar Somah while there are many more Syrian players playing in the prominent leagues in the Gulf,” Ebrahim props his claim that the youth development in Syria is continuing unabated. “You have a strong national team if your players are successfully playing in top professional leagues,” Ebrahim says while holding out an advice for his host which is also looking for glory in football.

“In the last eight-nine years Syria has been the focus of international terrorism and war that affected the lives of almost 400,000 people. Despite all this the Syrian league was never suspended in most parts of the country. It is true that some states suffered but football emerged the winner eventually,” Ebrahim says. “The clubs and their academies are keeping a continuous supply of players to make it a big talent pool in Syria. This is a legacy which we preserved despite all odds with the hard work of the coaches at all levels,” he added. “We are hopeful having a good team that will combine the best of the professional players playing outside and a selection of the youthful talents picked up from this squad. We would like to put up a better performance in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers this time,” Ebrahim said. “The task is very difficult but we will try to take one step ahead of what we did in our last World Cup qualification effort,” the Syrian head coach looked to end on a positive note.

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