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Bassem Marmar has made a name of himself in Asia. After winning back-to-back domestic double, Marmar went on to hit the jackpot and get crowned as the first Lebanese manager to win the AFC Cup.
Marmar: Ahed’s favourite son.
Marmar started as a player at Ahed where he spent his whole 14 season career starting back in 1996. During his career, he was injured many times. But it turned to be a golden opportunity for him! In 2007, the German Robert Jaspert was appointed as Ahed coach and Bassem Marmar as an assistant coach. Marmar was a logical choice because he knows very well the club and he is fluent in English and of course in Arabic. This is how Bassem Marmar felt in love with coaching.
“The Lebanese way [of coaching] was for the assistant coach to receive orders. But with him [Coach Jaspert], I felt like a partner even though the final call was always made by him. That was what made me want to become a coach.”
When he hanged up his boots, Bassem Marmar started to get coaching courses in no other than Germany, the home country of Robert Jaspert. When he came back, he was appointed as technical director of Ahed’s academy and youth sector.
“In the meeting with the management, there was a mutual agreement that the main goal for the academy was not to win trophies rather than to evolve players to be good enough for the first team even though that system helped us to get a lot of trophies eventually in the youth sector.”
Marmar saw the results of his work when the match-fixing scandal hit the Lebanese football world in 2013 and Ahed had to promote young players into the first team.
“After the scandal, we had to continue with half the team coming from the youth sector. Hussein El Zein, Khalil Khamis, and Mehdi Fahs were among the names that were promoted. This helped to convince more the board of the importance of the youth project.”
Bassem Marmar remembered his days as a caretaker manager in 2014 and 2015. Even though he did achieve some good results, Marmar didn’t feel like he was ready to lead the first team just yet. In fact, it was in 2016 that he was announced full-time first team manager after the departure of his mentor, Robert Jaspert.
“I took over the team after Robert [Jaspert], we played well but the results weren’t as good. I came when we were third in the championship and finished the season as the champion of Lebanon.”
The Lebanese mentality is an obstacle…
The young coach spoke about his first season as coach, speaking about the difficulties he faced throughout that season.
“The reigning mentality was that the player is always right, mainly because they were the ones to play on the field.”
Such difficulties saw Marmar resigning and going back to the youth sector right after winning the league. He simply didn’t see himself coaching any other Lebanese club than Ahed.
“I can’t picture myself outside of Ahed. If I had to resign now after winning the AFC Cup, I have no problem to go back to the youth sector.”
But the coach didn’t deny his interest in coaching abroad.
“If an offer comes from abroad, I’ll maybe think about it and all the circumstances around it. But in Lebanon, I have no problem to stay at Ahed throughout my career. In fact, I am still present at the training of the youth teams.”
… that Marmar has managed to surpass.
After the resignation, Nejmeh Legend Moussa Hojeij was appointed as Head Coach of Ahed but his tenure was cut short after drawing his first 3 games in the league and Marmar was re-appointed.
“At that moment, there was a shift of mentality in the club. The players were starting to get accountable for their actions. The issues I faced when I was there started to vanish, so I took back the job.”
The return of Marmar saw Ahed win the domestic double but more importantly Marmar, alongside the board, was able to create the “Reward and Punishment” system he always wanted.
“Players started to know that there aren’t “big players” or “small players”. what matters is what you give in every training and every game.”
Last year was Marmar’s third season as the manager of Ahed and he won the double, yet again, with an unbeatable streak of 46 games over the span of 2 years.
“The core of this dominance was the players, we have the best players in Lebanon. Add to that, the system we created that helped the players to bring out the best in themselves.”
That streak was broken one week after securing the third consecutive league title when he fielded a formation that contained mostly youth players facing an angry Ansar looking to revenge their loss in the Beirut Derby one week earlier.
“I don’t care about such records; I chose to rest my players because I had a very tough away game in the Asia Cup. My only concern was Asia at that point.”
The mentality shift is the cornerstone of Asia’s success.
Marmar was able to translate the dominance domestically into Asia. After bowing out of the cup twice for eventual winners, Ahed was able to taste the gold in a charming third time and they did it with style.
“Those two exits matured our play. If you re-watch the games in 2018 against Al Quwa Al Jawiya, you’ll see that we played good attacking football but always fell down due to some defensive mistakes. Such mistakes didn’t happen in 2019.”
The change of the on-pitch mentality was obvious to Marmar. Even the most skillful players were more keen on their defensive part of the game as they advanced in the tournament. They believed that this cup was theirs to lose.
“You can feel it listening to what the players were telling each other in the game. They were always asking each other to be on top concentration in the defensive situation. Our players were more conscious than in past years.”
The 2019 Asia Cup campaign of Ahed was nothing short than fascinating. Conceding only 3 goals in 11 games while keeping an astonishing 9 clean sheets. That was a tournament record for both goals conceded and clean sheets kept. What makes it more astonishing, is that Ahed are the first team to win the tournament without conceding any goal in the knock-out rounds. That’s crazy.
“The reason behind that is the change of playing mentality of all the players we spoke earlier about, add to that Mehdi Khalil on goal and having 3 very competent Center Backs.”
Marmar didn’t rule out taking on the Lebanese national team but at least not in the near future.
“It will be an honor for every Lebanese to coach his national team but for now, I’m at ease at home [Ahed].”