HILAL Mohammed Al Mansoori brings to mind the image of a tireless player who loves to perform and hates to give up. The diminutive Qatari left-winger stands out, thanks to his fearless ways and undying energy. He is bold in analysing Qatar football.
In an exclusive interview with Doha Stadium Plus, Hilal, who joined Umm Salal from Khor this season, speaks about his objectives and the problems that hinder the growth of Qatar football.
Why did you move to Umm Salal?
I chose Umm Salal because the coach (Bulent Uygun) wanted me at the club. They’re capable of challenging the big ones in Qatar for a top-four place. I thought a lot about my objectives and goals, and found it a step in the right direction.
What’re those goals?
Firstly, I want to improve my level. Secondly, make a good job with Umm Salal and achieve something impressive. During the three seasons I was at Al Khor, most of the time we were fighting to avoid relegation, which often made me nervous. And most importantly, I want to join the national team. I think it could be achieved by playing at Umm Salal.
I know that coach Jorge Fossati is trying out many new players since he took over, but I’m not thinking about that. In every game I play, I try to give my best.
What keeps you motivated?
When I enter the field, I hate to lose possession even once, let alone the game. I want to win every ball, convert it into a good pass or assist and eventually see my team end up as winners.
How was your experience of playing under Laszlo Boloni at Al Khor?
I learned a lot from Boloni. When I came to Khor, I was young. I joined from Al Sadd, who used to play a different style of football and if you’re a winger or an attacking midfielder, there wasn’t much pressure to defend.
I thought my job as a left-winger was 70 per cent attack and the rest 30 closing my position. But with Boloni, it was totally different. He always demanded 100 per cent attack and defence. It was very tough.
Boloni is a top coach who doesn’t want to accept even the minute errors. I slowly got adapted to his game plan and behaviour. I won’t forget the experience Khor and Boloni gave me.
Are you missing Sadd?
I miss the excellent conditions there to train and also some of my friends, but I hardly played in the league with Sadd. I got my chance at Khor. So you’ve to ask me whether I miss Khor.
I was 19 years when I decided to leave Sadd. Had I continued for one more year, perhaps I would’ve destroyed myself. Looking back, I took the right decision. The next six months, I learned a lot from Boloni. At the start of the second season, Boloni told me, “Renew your contract with Khor and you’ll play.” And he kept his word. In the second season, I played 32 games for Khor. I was one of the five best young players in Qatar that season. Had they achieved better results, I would’ve made it to the national team.
I should also say that I continued to learn a lot last season under current coach Jean Fernandez, who has been like a father figure to me. He’s a good coach and gentleman. Even now, when I play well, he’s the first to text me. I’m from Khor and everybody was angry when I left them, but not Fernandez.
We hear a lot coaches complaining about Qatari youngsters, especially their attitude...
We’ve a small population. More than 75 per cent of the boys leave the game after high school to pursue higher studies. But many of the Qatari players who continue are doing well. But I think they must wait for their chance if they want to achieve something really big.
I know it’s boring and it takes a lot of self-motivation. Sometimes, even if you do everything good at training, you may not get a chance because you’ve to compete with a foreign recruit for your position. My message is don’t give up and keep working. When your time comes, grab it.
When Boloni gave me 30 minutes to play for the first time, he told me, “If you want to prove something to me, do it now.” I did and since then I played all games with Khor and never sat on the bench. Because I was afraid that if I don’t deliver, the next match he’ll bench me.
Perform or perish is the case with all players across the world, right? Where’re the Qatari players losing out? You don’t see that many players making it big...
They miss the mentality, which’s very important. There’re a lot of players who show promise at the youth level. But even after getting into the Olympic team, they quit. They don’t want to wait.
I blame the clubs too. Qatar is a rich country. All our nationals may not be affluent, but they’re all leading a quality life. How can a club expect a Qatari player to join if it’s offering a contract worth QR5,000 a month. His family won’t accept it. They’ll want him to continue his studies abroad so that he can come back and take up a job in the government service for a monthly salary of QR40,000 or QR50,000.
We’ve Akram Afif playing in Sporting Gijon. It shows Qatar can produce top players.
Do you think the standard of coaching in clubs at the age-group levels is good enough?
I’ve heard that player development at Jaish and Lekhwiya is good overall.
I was at Sadd and some coaches at the age-group level there are really top-notch. But there was one guy who hardly played football and had no idea about the game. He somehow managed to get the certificates and was coaching us.
I’ve always felt that top coaches should be appointed in the youth system. If that’s done, then you don’t have to worry about the quality of the first team because results will come automatically. But in Qatar, except one or two clubs, the focus is only on first teams.
It’s high time Qatar acted because the World Cup is fast approaching...
The World Cup is less than six years away, so you can’t plan anything new now. Even if you concentrate on your current U-17 squad, all of them may not develop in the desired way. There’re a lot of factors like mentality, physique, technique, etc.
I’ve always felt clubs should’ve done more. The ASPIRE Academy is doing a good job, but I think it’s alone. If all clubs follow their style and can give the academy an overseeing role, then we’ll be able to do a lot more.
Had we planned and started working towards that direction 20 years ago, we would’ve played at the World Cup by now. Unlike Japan, South Korea or Iran, we don’t have a long-term plan.
What’re your World Cup dreams?
I want to play in the tournament and even if it’s for one minute, I’ll be happy. I’ll quit international football after that, continue my club career for two more years and then say goodbye.
Former Qatar internationals aren’t coming into coaching?
I think we’ve very good Qatari coaches. They’ve the qualification. Take Fahad Thani for example. He has managed our Olympic and senior national teams. As far as I know, he hasn’t received a single offer from a club until now. I don’t know why. Generally speaking, the clubs don’t trust a Qatari coach.
People keep asking why we don’t have one of our own countrymen as national coach. But I remember when Fahad lost one game, they criticised him citing his lack of club experience. And whenever he has made himself available to the clubs, their managements said “we don’t trust him”. It’s sad.
I’ve played under Fahad and always believed that he’s as good as any other top coach in Qatar, be it Fossati or Uygun. He knows football. He only needs a break and the experience that comes with it. DSP