When Oman walks out to face Australia tonight there’s at least one man in their camp who will have mixed emotions.
Jim Selby spent more than two decades working on football development in his native country but now finds himself the technical director for the Oman Football Association.
“I was hoping all the way through the draw that we didn’t get Australia but in the end that’s how it played out.”
“You don’t spend 25 years of your life in a fulltime position in Australia and not still have some passion for it so you’ve got to go with your employers and that’s where I am but there will always be that pull for Australia too.”
For now though the focus is all on the Sultanate that’s he’s called home for the past 18 months, working to develop football in a nation eager to fast-track its development.
“I guess I was attracted to looking to develop a country in the Middle East which everyone says is difficult to do, to gain those experiences and work within an organization with a chairman that believes in developing the whole of the game not just part of the game.”
As he works to improve all levels of football in the country, Selby believes it might not be long before Oman has the technical expertise to compliment an already strong skill set of development tools.
“The Oman culture, they have some parts of the game that they’re good at - they have a lot of flair and creativity but they need to integrate some of the international principles and tactics to compliment that – try to keep what they’re good at that goes with the culture and then introduce the international requirements that are needed to perform at the highest level,” Selby said.
“The players have probably got some of the nicest touches and individual skills but that’s only for two minutes of the game – you’ve got to play another 88 minutes and do things other than that but that’s what I want to keep.”
“I’ve seen Australia play in the youth team one time and how they were structured and how they were playing, I said 'if we could combine that with the Omani creativity and flair you’d have some sort of a side'.”
“We’ve got to get a balance between what they’re really good at and make sure the kids are still doing that because they play on the beach and they play everywhere and then introduce the requirements to be competitive at the international level.”
Selby is the only man to have been the technical director in two different Confederations (the AFC and the OFC) and says his goals are perhaps a little different from others in the nation when it comes to looking at the 2015 Asian Cup.
“If you’re in Oman you’ll have a lot of passion but I have to be rational about the game because when I look at football and I look at the Omani national teams – from the youth teams all the way to the senior teams – it tells me what hasn’t been done at a younger age and what needs to be done in the future.”
“We just had the World Cup so we saw what trends are happening there, we had the Gulf Cup and we saw what trends are happening there and for me this will give us another opportunity and it will give us some reflection on what we need to be doing with our next generation of players so they haven't got the same, I guess, inadequacies, that the current players have got.”
“So, for me, that’s what it’s about – for the coaches it will be something different, for the chairman and the board it will be about getting results as well so I think it’s different for different people.
Oman recently finished the first season of its inaugural professional league and while the early signs are promising there is still a way to go for a nation that has just one player (goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi) in plying his trade professionally overseas.
“It’s important that they have a professional league because it then lifts the bar that everyone has to work at because the clubs have to become more professional, more supporters and sponsors become involved, the leagues under those get better so you lift the whole bar by doing that.”
“If you have a higher level national league then your national team will reflect that so they need to look to develop their local league and that will take a few years so I guess a part of my job is to make sure that we provide players with the development needs so that they can play overseas at the highest level and not just talk about competing against gulf countries, if you’re going to play against the world you’ve got to set world standards not just gulf standards and that’s where we’re at.”