Opinion | Abraham Mebratu Faces a Tough Task but there is Room for Optimism

On Monday, in a press conference held at Capital Hotel, former Yemen National team coach Abraham Mebratu was officially unveiled as the new manager of The Walyas putting pen to paper on a two-year deal. Abraham was one of the candidates the Ethiopian Football Federation was considering and at the end of the day, his amazing work to help war torn Yemen, who currently has no existing domestic league system, qualify to the Asian Cup for the first time in their history seems to have tipped the scale in his favor.

The National team has been without a manager for about eight months. During that time there were no competitions, friendlies or training sessions the team took part in. There was no national team for that matter. With only a little over a month left for the AFCON qualifier game against Sierra Leone, the task of picking the right players and putting together a coherent team will not be easy.

Several people have voiced their concern over the fact that Abraham hasn’t been in Ethiopia to watch the league games closely and that will pose difficulties when it comes to squad selection. While that remains a valid point, he will not be solely responsible for selecting the players. The coach stated that he closely followed the league and he will assign assistant coaches to help him in this endeavor. On Wednesday Fasil Tekalegn and Mulugeta Miheret, assistant coaches at Saint George and Hawssa Ketema respectively, were named as the new assistants in the national team. These are two people who know the league inside-out and will help the new coach to better understand the players who will be selected.

One of the biggest reasons for optimism in this situation is the fact that the newly organized Ethiopian Football Federation has assigned Sewenet Bishaw to look over all technical matters. The coach that helped Ethiopia qualify to the 2013 AFCON and reach within touching distance of World Cup participation will help the new coach settle in. Abraham underlined that in the press conference:

“Although I was working in Yemen for a long time, I kept in touch with Ethiopia’s football. I have been a CAF coaching instructor so I know how the players perform in the league. Luckily, I have the support of Sewnet Bishaw and other coaches.”

Ethiopia has lost its first qualifier to Ghana by conceding five goals but that was over a year ago. There are still three home games left, in addition to a winnable away game against Sierra Leone, and a fairly balanced affair in Kenya. While expecting immediate results may be an overstretch, it’s not entirely inconceivable that Ethiopia can make it to AFCON.

However, qualification to AFCON isn’t the only way we should assess the tenure of Abraham. As EFF’s president Esayas Jira stated, the coach’s main task will be building a strong and competitive side for the CHAN competition Ethiopia will host in 2020.

As ever the demands of the fans and media will not be that simple. Everyone will want to see exciting football and young players being given a chance. After a league that was tarnished by fan violence and chaos, the Ethiopian national team can restore unity among football fans. The team can bring together the fans who have been bickering throughout the season.

A month may not be enough time to build a strong team for a new coach, but there is room for optimism. The results might not come right away, but Football is a process. Things don’t happen overnight. We should keep an eye on how things are evolving rather than fixating on a single result or a certain player not being included in the team.

It was announced that the coaching staff will recruit three players in each position, which will then be trimmed to a 23 man squad. The team will start training on August 7 in Hawassa, before facing Sierra Leone on September 9.

Despite all the challenges that our national team may face, we remain positive in our outlook of the future.