International friendlies are, for most managers, a chance to learn something about your squad. With few international dates, and with limited time to train, each one of these matches can show you something about how your team responds to a situation. Good friendlies challenge your team and make them play beyond their means; win or lose, the only real bad friendlies are those that don’t provide you with the chance to learn something.
When Bahrain manager Josef Hickersberger was presented with the chance to play a friendly against Togo – a team close to their FIFA ranking and one that they should’ve presented some challenge – he was probably excited about the chance to prepare his team with some competition ahead of this December’s Gulf Cup. What he got instead was a whole lot of confusion and not much satisfaction.
The match ended as a 3-0 win for Bahrain; FIFA even wrote a brief blurb about the match on their website. Ahead of the match, however, Bahrain was presented with a new list of 18 players that was completely different from the original list of 20 that had been provided. The match, too, seemed a bit…too easy. Said Hickersberger:
“Togo did not play their best team; for sure none of their professional players were there, I know some of them and didn’t see any of them. They were not fit enough to play 90 minutes; the match was very boring, and basically it was not good for us because we wanted to get information about the strength of our team, especially playing with many of our professionals. This was a wasted opportunity on a Fifa date, and I’m very sad about it.“
Poor play by amateurs is one thing; as the Bahrain FA delved a little deeper into the situation, however, they realized that it wasn’t just poor play. They quite possibly may not have played against a Togo team at all, in spite of the fact that all of their communication with Togo was stamped as official.
How could that happen? Well, Togo has a few problems. Back in December, FIFA dissolved the ruling council of Togo’s FA and placed an interim federation in charge. That’s created a little bit of confusion over who, exactly, is in charge in Togo, which could have opened the door up for an unscrupulous agent to manufacture an international friendly.
Also confusing is whether or not FIFA sanctioned the match in the first place. The head of Bahrain’s FA, Sheik Ali bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, claims it was, saying that “FIFA only approved the game because we had formal approval from both federations.” On the other hand, Seiyi Memene, the head of Togo’s interim federation, claims that he couldn’t have possibly sent anyone to the match because it wasn’t officially sanctioned by FIFA. FIFA, for their part, have refused to investigate or comment on the issue because it didn’t sanction the match, which would tend to back up Togo’s side of things.
This isn’t the first time somthing like this has happened; last month, Togo imposed a two year ban on technical staff member Tchanile Bana for taking players to Egypt without permission from the federation.
Either way, there seems to be only one thing everyone agrees on with this story: the Togolese team that played Bahrain last week wasn’t a legitimate team. What country they were from and who received their payment is still a little bit fuzzy.
What isn’t fuzzy is the names that were given; the Gulf Daily News, a Bahrain paper, has published those names along with a picture of the squad. If you know any of these guys, you might want to give FIFA a call.