Thursday, 9 January 2014

Football development in Americas, Middle East shows global nature of the sport, says Chuck Martini

Chuck Martini, Head Coach, Muscat
Football Academy
Reproduced with permission
Former football manager Chuck Martini says football is becoming increasingly popular in areas such as the Middle East and the United States because the sport has gained popularity throughout the world.

At the close of the Major League Soccer season in the United States, the league's total attendance was over six million. 

The Seattle Sounders broke the record for the highest average home attendance in the league: 44,038 fans arrived at their home, CenturyLink Field, every time the Sounders played.

Popularity of soccer

To put that in some perspective, that is higher that any team in Major League Baseball - with the exception of the Los Angeles Dodgers (46,216) - and more than double the average of Seattle's own baseball team, the Seattle Mariners.

That's 3,500 fans more than the average attendance of Premier League side Sunderland AFC, who had an average attendance of 40,544 fans during the 2012-13 season.

Soccer is now the third-most popular sport as far as attendances go, but Martini, who spent time in the States with Major Indoor League Soccer outfit the Dallas Sidekicks, says this growth is not surprising.

"Although baseball and American football are the number one sports in the USA, the number one played sport is actually soccer," says the former goalkeeper.

"It's the number one played sport by boys and girls. There are more boys and girls playing soccer than playing American football and baseball.

"American football is an American game and baseball has always been an American past-time and an American sport so they always get the preference of coverage," adds Martini, who played for Leicester City, Wimbledon AFC and Wycombe Wanderers in the UK.

USA was an eye-opener

"When I first went to America, for me it was an eye-opener," recalls Martini, who was a member of the Morocco football team that played at the 1994 World Cup in the US.

"I was involved in professional sport from a young age in the UK and when I went to America, the level of training, sports science, that was at a total different level to whatever I saw in the UK.

"It was the first time I'd travelled in a private jet. They had this purpose-built plane for the team to travel from one place to another place.

"Sport is big business in America," he explains. "It has always been, so for me, it was a total eye-opener. In terms of professionalism, I still to this date cannot compare them to anybody else because they are at the top, even with the Premier League.

"When all the top players get injured, half of them are going to America to do rehab so it just gives you a little insight into how far developed they are over there," he says.

"Football is global and with these leagues rising, and when people like (David) Beckham, (Juergen) Klinsmann, Thierry Henry and all that lot went over there, it's given it a bit of a profile now."

But while the MLS is reaching new heights in terms of attendance and image, Martini says that clubs in the Middle East have not yet found the formula for success.

Laid-back attitude

Having successfully coached Southern League Division One side Godalming Town FC and Ryman Division One team Walton and Hersham FC in the UK, Martini has now been named head coach of the Muscat Football Academy in the Sultanate of Oman.

In the past, the likes of Gabriel Batistuta, Raul Gonzalez, Fabio Cannavaro and David Trezeguet have all plied their trade in the Middle East but Martini says what is important is that clubs learn to fill out stadiums.

"In the Middle East, it's pretty much a laid back attitude," he explains. "They'd rather sit at home and watch it on TV whereas in Europe, people love going to the game.

"The problem [is] that they still haven't found a formula to that success [which] is getting bums on seats in the stadium," he adds.

The heat does play a part I guess because it's pretty hot all year round and people don't want to go out and feel the extreme heat half of the time."

Having now moved to Oman, Martini has also been appointed Technical Director of Saham Football Club.

Fill stadiums

"The one thing that they are trying to promote is to put bums on seats, is to play in their own purpose-built stadiums" he says. "If you look at the professional league in Oman, they're playing in all the major stadiums, but they're not playing at home.

"You might be from a little town like Saham, but if you've got the whole town supporting the club and coming out, like they do back home in the UK, if you have that integration between your town and the local football club, there's only one way and it's up."

Chuck Martini during his time with Waltham and Hersham FC in the UK. Image courtesy Muscat Football Academy
Martini says he's been to several football games in Oman during his time in the Gulf. "I go and I see an empty stadium," he explains. "I'd rather be in a smaller stadium where I've got 2,000 fans making noise than be in a massive stadium the size of Wembley and 2,000 people watching it."

"If they keep playing in empty stadiums, there's no real passion, there's no real sense of 'we're playing at home today.' Every game is an away game.  

"I think they (the clubs) need to stick to the town mentality: local club, local team and then let it grow to drum up interest within your own areas," he advises. "I think that's the only way that they will succeed."

This mode of success is possible, he says, because apart from the passion that people in the Middle East show towards football, there is plenty of money to invest in the sport.

"I think their infrastructure is sound," says Martini on the provisions for the development of football in the Middle East. "The investment is there and players will go where the money is and in terms of the Gulf, money is not something that is lacking".

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