With the launch of a FIFA Grassroots Programme, Saturday 17 October was a milestone date for the future of Palestinian football. With an aim to help grow the nation's game, the programme began with a special coaching development course before ending on Wednesday with a grassroots football festival.
Opened by Major General Jibril Al Rajoub, President of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA), the course was conducted by FIFA instructor Jamal Lahrache (Morocco), who supervised a similar activity for coaches in Gaza in September. Over 29 participants from across all the Palestinian districts attended.
“I’m extremely happy for this generation of coaches who are working to develop their abilities through training courses. This is the second Grassroots course in Palestine, following the first in Gaza, and it is important to develop Palestinian football,” said PFA president Al Rajoub during the opening ceremony.
Lahrache similarly stressed the importance of the courses “in forming coaches who are able to train, develop and refine the basic talents of young players”. Explaining how modern methods would aid these future generations, he said: “The training programme relies on the up-to-date techniques in football in order to help those players develop their skills.”
The theoretical and practical training ended with a Grassroots Festival in Majed Asaad Stadium in Al Bireh, in which the trainee coaches and many talented young students from the federation’s technical centre, featuring boys and girls aged nine to 13, took part.
Scouting for talent
The work of the PFA is not limited to developing coaches academically. They are also always looking out for future talent on the pitch in Palestine too, aiming to train and develop them before integrating the youngsters into Palestinian youth national teams, with a view to attaining the best possible results.
"Talented footballers are like jewels," Ahmad Alhasan, technical director at the PFA, told FIFA.com. "You must search for them because they won't come to you. We look for talented players at school level, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education. We also select players depending on their performance in these festivals, subsequently distributing them to academic centres and clubs to develop their skills and potentially be selected for national teams."
Mohammad Ghayada, ten, is one of these talents. He trains with Al Bireh Youth Foundation Club, and participated in Wednesday's festival. His Father, Imad, stressed the importance of such events for him and for his son. "This festival has helped create new opportunities, capabilities, and challenges for the young players," Imad told FIFA.com while watching his boy enjoy the festival with his friends.
"My son Mohammad had the chance to engage with other players from other academies, adding to his experience and self-confidence,” he went on. “He is working harder to develop his skills and capabilities, in relation to his peers. We hope sports clubs and the PFA will continue to place more emphasis on such courses and festivals in the future."
The nucleus of football
Alhasan stressed the importance of the programme. "Children are the nucleus of football," he asserted. "Any country seeking to advance in football must rely on the young for a better future in this popular sport.
"We’ve made big strides in our efforts to develop grassroots football and we hope to reap the rewards in the next few years. This would not have been possible without the support of FIFA, which sent us instructors and equipment to render the development courses successful."
The PFA’s youth development efforts almost bore tangible fruit recently, when hosting Group C of 2016 AFC U-19 Championship qualifying at Al Ram's Faisal Al-Husseini Stadium earlier this month. Palestine finished second in their section, behind United Arab Emirates, and came within a whisker of qualifying as one of the best second-place teams, only to miss out on goal difference to Yemen.
"The U-19 team was very close to qualifying for the Asia Cup for the first time in Palestine's history,” Alhasan reflected. “We hope that, based on our plans for grassroots football and youth development, next time we’ll qualify.”