2004 was a good year for Bahrain. The tiny country East of Saudi Arabia, which at one point, once known as the financial world of the Middle East, was ranked 44th in the FIFA global ranking system. Having finished 4th in the 2004 Asian Cup, Bahrain was named as the most improved team by FIFA during that very year.
That was 2004. The good old days of Bahraini football.
Since then, Al-Ahmar (the reds) had participated in several Arab Championships, Asian Cups and World Cup qualifiers but unfortunately their performances have been dismal. And to think of it, the team had jumped 95 places in 2004 to 44 after being ranked 139 in 2000.
Some had argued that their downfall could be related to the Arab Spring that stunted Bahrain’s growth.
As it stands today, the national team is back in the 100’s in the FIFA ranking, but what amuses us is the reasons behind the team’s demise.
Let’s take a look at possible causes:
Weak Domestic League Level: The only football leagues close to delivering fun and excitement among the nations in the Middle East are the Abdul Lateef Jameel League (Saudi Arabia) and Arabian Gulf League (UAE). Qatar’s Qatar Stars League follows suit. The rest are like the elephants in the room with the room referring to Middle Eastern football. The league lacks the financial pull to import talented foreigners. There are those playing currently, but the quality cannot be compared to that of a professional league.
Stability within the National Team: The team has gone through 16 changes in terms of managers within the national set up since 2003. The number should not come as a shock as the region is notorious in disposing managers that cannot perform for 5+ matches or less. This state of technical instability has resulted in lack of qualified tacticians in the country. Moreover, the team never had an appropriate amount of time needed to adapt to a new coach and get a feel of his tactics. This results in local less knowledgeable coaches taking over the team during the interim leaving the players tangled in a web of relating to new set of strategies among those that are already instilled.
Lack of Friendly Matches: Let’s be honest. The only teams who would prefer playing Bahrain are those that are under the nation in the FIFA ranking. The criticism of the national team as a non-performer and being non-beneficial is hurting the country’s ability to identify and secure stronger teams for their players to learn and profit from.
Fan Support: The football fanatic population in Bahrain is already infinitesimal; the team would have to draw positive performances on a regular basis to retain the support for the national team. The league itself attracts on an average less than 1,000 individuals during a given match. There is no motivation from the clubs to attract them and neither does focus on developing the league exists.
Lack of Sports Facilities: Bahrain at one time was the country Middle Eastern cities were trying to imitate. But as it stands today, from a football perspective, there is a lack of facilities, playing grounds or grass fields for the game to evolve at the grassroots level. Currently, league matches are predominantly shared between two stadiums: the National Stadium and the Khalifa Stadium. Bahrain is in dire need of an increase in the number of sizeable pitches, which will open the possibility of the nation hosting continental tournaments such as the Asian Cup.
Lack of Talent: The ability for managers to scout gifted local players among a tiny and dwindling pool of footballers explains the absence of talented Bahraini professionals in the league. The clubs quite possibly are not in a position to think about the future and invest at the grassroots level to identify prospective. This requires investment from a financial perception along with viable technical know-how.
More specifically, the Bahraini FA needs to figure out how to tackle the last point and focus on building talent, like neighbours United Arab Emirates did. It is not arduous for Bahrain to recognise and invest on talent. The responsibility falls on top management of Bahraini FA to develop the strategic framework for the nation’s future.