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Conversations in Soccer – Afshin Ghotbi

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Sep 8, 2015

Conversations in Soccer – Afshin Ghotbi

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When I was a kid, I had a coach who seemed pretty well ahead of his time in terms of soccer in America. He was committed in ways that few coaches were. He had a philosophy about not only how we played but also how we trained. He was a lover of the game in the very realest sense of that term, he passed that on to countless young American soccer players and he helped develop some players that went on to play at the professional level.

Besides sending players on to the next level, he ended up forging a career that few American based coaches can claim. Assisting teams ranging from MLS to the World Cup to leading teams at the proffesional level in Asia, Afshin Ghotbi has an incredibly unique set of coaching credits as well as life experiences.

I may be a bit biased because he was my coach and had a huge influence on my life, but I think there are few American coaches that have the experiences that Afshin has.

Find me another American coach who has developed players like John O’Brien and Pete Vagenas and coached World Cup qualifiers for a country like Iran. I don’t think there are many that can make that claim.

After spending the last number of years coaching in Asia, Afshin has joined Dutch icon Patrick Kluivert, in trying to help Curacao in their quest to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In between their home and away legs against El Salvador, Afshin took some time to answer some questions for us.

You are now with the Curacao national team, how is that going so far?

We just played our first leg at home against El Salvador losing 0-1 last night. I have just joined the team several days before the match. Despite having only three days for preparation, we deserved more from the game creating several open chances in each half. We will play a return leg on Tuesday in El Salvador. Trailing 0-1, a victory by scoring two goals will put us through to the Group Stage.

How did you end up as as assistant with Curacao?

Patrick Kluivert and I have become close friends in the past year, and he asked for my support after his appointment. To be honest, I was hesitant at first. But, I finally decided to join him for the El Salvador series. Depending on the results, we will have a chance to discuss our future together.

World Cup qualifying is just beginning for you guys ,what are the expectations on the team?

The expectations are high within the team, but it takes time to build a World Cup bound national football team in Curacao.

You’ve coached with a number of high profile Dutch managers, is there a similar philosophy that they have?

They share similar football ideology based on Dutch football education, but they each have distinct personalities and management styles. I won’t bore you by explaining Dutch vision, as it has been talked about for many years in USA.

You have been on the coaching staff for multiple World Cups, what is the process like for you this time around as you are helping guide a team that has never qualified for a World Cup?

As I have only been here less than a week, I will need more time to evaluate the football landscape prior to giving a fair evaluation.

Your coaching resume includes multiple World Cups, coaching the Iranian national team and coaching jobs around Asia. What has that process been like for you?

It has been an incredible journey, and I feel blessed to have lived my dream. Every experience has been unique and presented its own challenges. The cultural challenges have been as important as the football ones. At the end, it is all about people. Selecting, empowering, uniting and managing people.

With so many different experiences with multiple cultures, countries and styles of play. Do you feel that you have a coaching style or philosophy?

I believe that professional sports are about entertaining the fans with attractive, swift and ultimately winning football. Every match must be a spectacle raising emotions and creating lasting memories. This can only be achieved by creating an atmosphere sensitive to each culture, and football style prioritising the strengths and qualities of its players.

Although you weren’t born in the US, you played college in the US and thats where you began your coaching career and spent many years coaching in the US. Besides Bob Bradley, there aren’t many American coaches that are coaching abroad. How difficult is it for a US coach to get a chance?

I actually moved to the USA as a youngster attending Jr. High and playing high school in Southern California followed by playing at UCLA. Geopolitics plays a huge role in our football industry, as American coaches have not established themselves on a global stage as of today. We have to work harder, and be much better to be given an opportunity to coach abroad. For example, a coaching position will be given to a Brazilian coach, because the president of the club wants to play Brazilian style football, or a federation decided to hire a German coach because Germany won the last World Cup. Unfortunately, the nationality maybe more important than the quality or experience.

At the end, I believe it is only matter of time, we will break through. I hope I can help in this process.

How much do you think your coaching experience at the highest levels of global soccer would help you if you returned to coaching in the US?

I believe we are products of our experiences, and my career history definitely gives me a unique perspective to improve players with each training, make teams win more games in a season and appeal to a greater audience with a global football style using American talents.

Does a return to coaching in the US, specifically with an MLS side, something that interests you?

I was an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Galaxy almost a decade ago. MLS continues to grow as a league on all levels, and I would love to be part of the continual evolution.

You have an understanding of American players, the American soccer system and global football. That isn’t something that many people can claim. How beneficial do you think that would be for MLS and American players?

American players pride themselves in their work rate, winning spirit and physical qualities. With the development of the game in the United States, our players are becoming more sophisticated, seeking coaches who can give them tactically challenging training sessions and instructions. I started coaching in the USA when the game was a novelty, and I gave my all to help develop the game in my own small way. I hope I can bring back my many experiences and contribute further in the development of the beautiful game, American style!

Thanks for your time Afshin. Best of luck with qualifying!

Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you again.

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