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Pfister still loving life in the coaching fast lane

Friday, November 24, 2017
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Kuala Lumpur: There can be very few people in this world who would raise an eyebrow if Otto Pfister announced that he finally wanted to take things a little easier.

Instead, as he turns 80, the highly regarded German coach remains as enthusiastic about life in general and football in particular, as he has ever been. An infectious joie de vivre that has been there for all to see during a career – as both player and coach – that now spans six glorious decades.

“Football is not, and has never been, a job for me. It’s like a hobby,” Pfister told the-AFC.com in an exclusive interview.

“So often, when you go to a different country as a coach, you encounter a different language, a different religion or a different culture. It is a permanent challenge, but one that gives me plenty of motivation, and it’s a challenge that I still like a lot.”

The latest addition to Pfister’s already glittering curriculum vitae is a role as head coach of Afghanistan, a move that came about after he was pinpointed as the ideal person to oversee the national side's bid to reach the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

Despite the obvious difficulties associated with trying to coach a team from the troubled nation, Pfister insists he is enjoying his time with the Lions of Khorasan, even if their dream of rubbing shoulders with Asia’s elite in the United Arab Emirates was extinguished some time ago.

“My current job with Afghanistan is undoubtedly a special job, and one that I am more than happy with, even though there are issues such as the fact that we have to play all our games outside of Afghanistan.

“But even with that in mind, I have to say that I am okay.

“At first, I admit it was difficult because I did not see the players for as long as I would have liked before our games, but, as I get to know the squad more, things have definitely improved.”

That Afghanistan came calling, should be of little surprise.

Pfister, Africa’s Manager of the Year in 1992, has an enviable wealth of experience under his belt, having famously guided Saudi Arabia to the 1998 FIFA World Cup, Togo at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and Ghana to success at the 1991 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

The Cologne native has also won league titles in Lebanon and Egypt with Nejmeh and Zamalek respectively.

Golden memories galore, that, unsurprisingly, Pfister remains incredibly proud of.

“It is true, I have had many highlights in my career. With Saudi Arabia in 1998 I had the likes of Sami Al Jaber and Mohamed Al Deayea, who at the time was one of the best goalkeepers in the world, playing for me. They were my boys and that was a great team.

“During my time in Africa, I coached star players such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Abedi Pele, yet again, they were great footballers who helped the countries I was in charge of at the time achieve so much.”

Given that Pfister’s first spell in Asia was some 20 years ago with Bangladesh, he is undoubtedly well placed to assess the progress made throughout the region. And, according to the one-time striker, the change has been an impressive one.

“There can be little doubt that Asia has made a big step over the past 20 years or so,” he declared.

“Once upon a time in Asia you had to improvise everything, but now – thanks to the work of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – everything before during and after the game is done very professionally.

“There were changes that needed to be done, and now that they have I think it has taken the game in Asia to a much higher level. The AFC should be congratulated.”

Perhaps not surprisingly given his omnipresent professional approach, Pfister is now fully focused on Afghanistan’s last fixture in the final round of Asian Cup qualifiers. A game against Cambodia that he believes will provide a further opportunity for the world to see the potential of his squad.

“We have had some good results during the qualifiers – two draws against Vietnam and a 3-3 result against group leaders Jordan show the potential that Afghanistan has.

“Of course, we cannot play games in Afghanistan. All our home games have to be played overseas and I firmly believe that once we can play in Afghanistan the country has a great chance to succeed.”

Photos: AFC, AFP