With every passing day, the writing on the wall becomes clearer. It is looking increasingly unlikely that the PFA will continue with Julio Baldivieso as manager of the national team.
The rumors of the Bolivian’s departure is still in the realm of speculation but those whispers have grown louder since Palestine’s 1-0 loss to Oman.
A technical committee put together by the PFA is set to analyze that performance and suggest a course of action. An outright dismissal seems likely and if the third option of assigning a local assistant is chosen instead; it most likely will result in Baldivieso resigning in protest.
The PFA can be forgiven for trying to forge a new path with a foreign coach but not returning to the original (and successful) blueprint in the event of Baldivieso’s departure is a recipe for disaster.
A bold move
The majority of observers might have disagreed with hiring Baldivieso at Barakat’s expense but in hindsight it might be worth trying to analyze the thinking that lead to such a decision.
Due to budgetary concerns, the PFA will almost never be able to hire a manager of regional or international repute. Fans might have clamored for the likes of Adnan Hamed or Hassan Sehata to be given the role in the past but those appointments are pure fantasy.
The money is not there to bring those names and even if it was would they want, or even be able to, deal with the reality of Palestinian football?
The PFA made this call because they were presented with an opportunity to hire an international manager with some repute. On paper, Baldivieso’s record and experience is better than that of any other national team manager at the time of his appointment.
The PFA erred in two critical areas:
1. They made a change when change was not necessary.
2. They did not give their new manager the freedom to experiment
In researching this story, several players and members of staff recounted how Jibril Rajoub himself told Baldivieso: “If you lose this game [to Oman] you will not be coming back to Palestine.”
He was further informed that a draw would be good enough to save his job.
Baldivieso opted to play defensively and conservatively when instead he should have been given the liberty to try new formations and new players.
Instead of trying to implement new ideas, Baldivieso put out a starting lineup that was familiar with each other and tasked them with getting a draw to save his job.
Asia is watching
How the PFA handles this ongoing situation is extremely important as it can ill afford another clumsy transition. When the decision to hire Baldivieso was made; nobody knew what was going on.
During Christmas week, Football Palestine received 37 messages from international news outlets seeking clarification.
The most common question put forth was: Why?
The PFA never really addressed that issue in hiring Baldivieso and now faces a situation where it must answer it again should he be sacked.
That pressure would be alleviated to a certain degree if the board decides to reverts to the original course with Abdel Nasser Barakat.
Failing to try is akin to trying to fail; that is the best way to sum up the Baldivieso experience. The PFA tried to do something bold and it did not work out; these things happen quite often in the sporting world and there is no shame in going back to your original plan.
If reports are to be believed, it did not even cost Palestine a shot at a better seed for the Asian Cup draw. Multiple outlets have reported that the teams who qualified through the World Cup route would be placed in Pot 1 & 2.
Players weigh in
Should the technical committee decide to let Baldivieso stay, despite the less than inspiring product on the pitch, then perhaps the Bolivian tactician could do better with more time.
There is some support for him, captain Abdelatif Bahdari pleaded with fans to give the staff more time in the aftermath of the 1-0 loss to Oman.
That is not to say there are no significant drawbacks. There is a language barrier between Baldivieso’s assistants who can only speak Spanish and many of the players did not take to kindly to the presence of Baldivieso’s 21-year old son who was allowed to lead training on occasion.
If Baldivieso is given his marching orders, going back to the original plan with Abdel Nasser Barakat would be the responsible choice with so little time left before the Asian Cup.
A third coaching staff in the space of five months would be facing an impossible task. There are too many players, playing in too many countries, with too few opportunities to test them all ahead of the Asian Cup.
This sentiment has been echoed by the players. One member of El-Hassan’s 2015 squad spoke of a parallel with the scenario four years ago.
“I worked so hard to get to the 2015 Asian Cup and then all that work went to waste because we did not have a coach or plan in place. It was supposed to be the biggest moment of my career and it turned into an embarrassment. We will be back in 2019 and there are a lot of good and young players but we still need a clear plan.”
Another member of the national team spoke of the unnecessary pressure ratcheted up on the managers and the squad.
“They fired Abdel Nasser and he didn’t even lose a game [in 2017], then they brought Julio and they want to fire him for losing one game. It’s not professional”
What the PFA decides to do on April 23rd will have significant reverberations for the 2022 World Cup cycle. A long term plan is needed to ensure success at UAE 2019 and beyond.