Stark reality for Afghan football
A German coach brings Afghanistan back into the football family.
Last Modified: 03 Jun 2008 16:01 GMT

Germany's Klaus Stark loves his job as
Afghanistan national football coach [Al Jazeera]

Coaching a national football team to glory, or at least up to the standards expected by fervent fans, can be tough at the best of times. Just ask former England manager Steve McClaren, or former China coach Zhu Guanghu.
Both McClaren and Zhu were sacked from their respective positions in 2007 after failing with their teams, no doubt having worked with elite players, state of the art facilities, and with healthy budgets.
Spare a thought then for Klaus Stark.
The German has been coach of the Afghanistan national team for three years, and he loves his job.

Stark was in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo ahead of the 2008 South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship, where his side were drawn in Group B alongside Bangladesh, Bhutan, and co-hosts Sri Lanka.

The 54-year-old spoke with Al Jazeera about his experience of coaching a team with a Fifa ranking of 196th in the world.

"In Kabul at the moment we do not have any football pitch. All of them are destroyed."

Klaus Stark,
Afghanistan coach
"You know, in Afghanistan it is very difficult to prepare a football team," Stark said.

"In Kabul at the moment we do not have any football pitch. All of them are destroyed.

"Our stadium is undergoing renovation, so we went to Jalalabad with the team for some short training camps."

Stark has worked for the German Football Federation (DFB) since 2001. He is one of about 20 coaches that the DFB send across the globe to help develop "third world" footballing nations.

European style

"We try to give our experience and knowledge to them. I love this job because I'm always working with footballers," he said.

"We have the same aim - we want to improve football.

"I have helped football federations in eight countries, but in Afghanistan it is a difficult job."

Some of Stark's previous employers include Lebanon, Mongolia and Pakistan. Hardly budding World Cup winners, but that doesn't bother the German.

He has spent the last four years working with the Afghanistan Football Federation, the past three as national coach, and says Afghan players have a style like those in southern Europe.

"They can handle the ball, but they have problems in the tactical side. We have to teach them how to play football… modern football," Stark said.

"Because of the lack of games they have, it is a long road to develop them."

Youthful success

Stark has helped to develop youth and
women's football in Afghanistan [Al Jazeera]

Football, like many sports, was discouraged when the Taliban ruled from 1996 to 2001, and Afghanistan did not play any international matches between 1984 and 2003. They have attempted to qualify for the Olympics just twice since 1948, and have only participated in World Cup qualifying since Germany 2006.

"Three years ago we started at zero. With nothing. But now we can compete in these South Asian tournaments, and the Challenge Cup," said Stark, who spends six to eight months of the year in Afghanistan.

"So I think that's a compliment to the players that they are learning quickly.

"We help the federation in all areas of football - coaching department, referees, youth football, women's football, all the national teams.

"We have three football schools with 600 children playing football every day, and so the improvement at the youth level is faster than at the adult level."

Two weeks ago the Afghanistan Under-14 national team returned from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-14 Festival of Football in Tehran with the bronze medal. It was an achievement that Stark hoped would help raise government funding for football.

"It was another success, and we were invited by the Vice President, Mr Massoud [Ahmad Zia Massoud], and he was very happy about football," Stark said.

"So I hope in the future the government will give more support to football in Afghanistan."

Part of the family

The German program in Afghanistan has been running for almost five years, and with Stark and his team soon to hand the reins over to the national federation it remains to be seen what they can achieve without external help.

" ...the most important thing is that Afghanistan are ready to participate."

Klaus Stark
"Such a program is usually planned for four years, but Afghanistan is a special situation so we are there for five years. But after five years our work is done," Stark explained.

"We give everything we have to them, and then the Afghans must work with it."

Afghanistan have made two appearances at SAFF championships, exiting the tournament in the first round on both occasions in 2003 and 2005, having lost five of six matches played.

However Stark and his team of coaches have given Afghan football more hope and expectation than it has had in a long time, with this tournament just a steppingstone to bigger things.

"We would be very happy if we could reach the semi-finals. It is possible… it is a long and hard way for us," he said.

"But the most important thing is that Afghanistan are ready to participate.

"We are back in the football family."

Al Jazeera
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