Science - November 27, 2008

IRANIAN EX-PRO COACHES DUTCH YOUTH

The kids love him and Omid Norzoozi finds it very refreshing to be on the football pitch after a hard day’s work. This PhD student at Education and Competence Studies played in the Iranian first division until a knee injury brought his professional career to an untimely end. It was in Wageningen that he came onto the pitch again for the first time in four years, as coach for a bunch of teenagers at Wageningen SKV.

Omid Norzoozi – on the left, with a broken nose – coaching young footballers at the Zoom Sport Park in Wageningen. He broke his nose in a road accident in Iran, when he was on holiday there last month.
His first few months in the Netherlands were not easy, says Omid (27). All he had was his PhD research, and he missed his family, his friends and his country. Until one day in the coffee break at his chair group, people started to talk about their backgrounds. ‘I told them that I had played professional football in the premier league in Iran. My last club was Malaran Arzali in northern Iran, and I also played internationally for the national youth team (under 23s) and the national student team. It turned out my colleague Arjan Wals was involved in the local football club, SKV, and he asked me if I might like to coach the youth team. After all, I did have my coach’s diplomas.’

However, it was four years since Omid had been on a football pitch. During a training session of the Iranian national student team, he tore two ligaments in his left knee when he jumped over someone’s leg while dribbling and landed badly. ‘We were at a training camp and we were training four hours a day. And then suddenly there I was in a hospital bed, and for months afterwards I walked with a stick. Sometimes I wonder how I got through that time’, he says quietly. ‘After my Masters I wanted to stop studying and concentrate on football. As a footballer, you earn far more than a university lecturer. In one six-month season I used to earn 20 thousand euros. A quarter of that was enough to live on. And the salaries have only gone up. But the doctor assured me I had to forget about professional football.’

Omid finally opted for a PhD, which brought him to the Netherlands. ‘I’ve had three operations on my knee, but I still can’t play. I might have another operation next year, here in Holland. But I will never make a comeback at the top level.’ After some hesitation, Omid wanted to see what it was like to coach Dutch youth. He began with a group of boys of around fourteen years old. ‘The most important challenge was how to manage them. I was their first foreign coach, some kids were quite difficult to handle, and there was the language problem as I don’t speak Dutch.’ He settled it during a game. ‘When they watched my ability, they saw I really did know how to play. They all tried to snatch the ball, but no one could. And now they listen.’
And the boisterous teenagers certainly do listen. There’s just a small group this Tuesday evening on a snowy sand pitch at the Zoom Sport Park – all other practices have been cancelled due to the bad weather. But the boys are keen to come to Omid’s training sessions. ‘He has been a professional’, they say in awed tones, and carry on shoving each other and pelting each other with snowballs. One says he tries harder for Omid, another thinks he gives them better exercises than the other coaches. ‘Omid is nearly always cheerful himself’, says Jaime, ‘And he sometimes mucks about with the whole team.’ And the teenagers understand his English instructions just fine.

Up to his ankles in snow, Omid walks about the snowy pitch with a smile, blowing his whistle now and then. He doesn’t shout, but has a quiet authority and an aura of calm. He wants to teach his pupils to kick more accurately and not to make sloppy passes during the match. ‘They need to learn to use their heads, and to see the whole pitch and be aware of who’s around them’, says the former striker. Omid finds he can completely recharge his batteries at the football club. ‘My head becomes clearer, and that means I can work better. I feel at home here. It’s made my life a lot nicer.’

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