'Born of suffering': Jordan's Asian Cup heroics mask deeper issues

By AFP   February 9, 2024 | 08:00 pm PT
Jordan's run to Saturday's Asian Cup final is all the more remarkable for the decrepit state of football infrastructure at home and the financial struggles of domestic teams and players.

Hussein Ammouta's side are into the final for the first time in their history and will face hosts and reigning champions Qatar.

Before now, Jordan's best Asian Cup was the quarter-finals in 2004 and 2011. The team ranked 87 in the world by FIFA has never been to a World Cup.

There are hopes that no matter what happens on Saturday in Doha, Jordan's Asian Cup could be a turning point for the sport in the football-mad country of 11 million people.

But their achievements mask deep-rooted problems at home, with a lack of money in domestic football the biggest obstacle.

Jordan (R) play South Korea in a 2-2 draw in the Asian Cup 2023 group stage in Qatar, Jan. 20, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa

Jordan (R) play South Korea in a 2-2 draw in the Asian Cup 2023 group stage in Qatar, Jan. 20, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa

Jordan's top division, the Pro League, is professional but wages can be so low that players are forced to take up second jobs in security or government offices in the capital Amman.

Sixteen of the Asian Cup squad play in Jordan's domestic league, with others in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Iraq, Malaysia and Qatar. Mousa Al-Tamari is the only one playing in Europe, at Montpellier.

Underlining the lack of money in Jordanian football, the financial reward for the league champions is just 60,000 dinars ($85,000).

"The finances of the clubs are non-existent," Menem Fakhoury, secretary-general at professional side Al-Jazeera, told AFP.

'We need infrastructure'

Samar Nassar, secretary general of Jordan's football association, acknowledges the many challenges.

"We need infrastructure and the private sector to rally around the national team," she told AFP.

"But clubs are the bedrock. We need support for domestic football as a whole and a re-examination of many matters."

The private sector is standing up and backing the national team, with banks for example offering financial rewards to the players for getting to the final.

But Nassar said: "We hope that they will support the process as a whole, and that the support will not be limited to just when the national team is doing well."

Following their stunning 2-0 semi-final win over South Korea, Jordan's Moroccan coach Ammouta made a public plea.

"We need to invest in infrastructure, in the training and formation of our players to reach higher levels," he said.

"We need to pay attention to age categories."

'Born of suffering'

A change in government legislation is seen as one possible way of improving things. Currently, Jordanian clubs operate under the umbrella of the Ministry of Youth.

"Company owners must be convinced to adopt the clubs," said Fakhoury, adding that what money is currently in Jordanian football is more likely to go into the national team.

Outside the traditional big teams, some clubs can go several months without paying salaries because they don't have the financial means, said Fakhoury.

As well as pleas for private sector involvement, the government is now coming under pressure to find more money from Jordan's struggling economy to put into the domestic game.

"Demands are increasing about the need for the government to see this achievement (at the Asian Cup) and build on it," said the Al-Ghad newspaper.

It called the national side's historic feat "an achievement born of suffering".

"Is the government paying attention?" it asked.

The government on the eve of the final responded with an input of one million dinars into the football federation.

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