Omar Al-Duri has been on a remarkable journey.
Born in south west London, to an Iraqi father and Saudi mother, Al-Duri moved to Dubai in 2009 aiming to develop health and fitness in the UAE.
Twelve years on, Al-Duri has established his own gym, sponsored a women’s football team (which he also coaches), won numerous awards (including Sport360’s FIT Award for Coach of the Year) and become a physical trainer for an international football team.
For a man whose life has centred on football in one way or another, it wasn’t a difficult decision to make when the Ghana FA came and asked if he would be interested in joining their team for the recent 2015 African Under-20 Championship in Senegal.
“I got a call from someone at the Ghana Federation saying they were handed my details and that they needed a physical trainer who could also coach,” Al-Duri explained to Sport360.
“The Ghanaians were looking for new ideas to improve the Black Satellites youth team. They wanted to focus on conditioning and getting athletes ready for competition and also wanted someone who had an idea about football.”
A video posted by Omar Al Duri (@omaralduri) on Mar 23, 2015 at 4:06am PDT
While the merits were obvious and Al-Duri’s desire was peaking, commitments in the UAE almost meant that the dream didn’t come true. However, an encounter with former Chelsea manager and Ghana’s head coach, Avram Grant, changed all that.
“At the time, they wanted me to come out within the week but I couldn’t because I had work,” Al-Duri recalled. “They were training in Turkey and said that they wanted me to speak to Avram Grant and if he liked what he saw then they’d get me on board.
“He asked a couple of questions about my background, my passion and why I was in Dubai and what the type of football I was involved in. I told him that football was everything to me and he asked me to send my CV again as he had shortlisted a couple of people and wanted another look.
“The liaison for the Ghana FA then emailed me asking if I was ready to come to Turkey. I asked them when they wanted me and they said ‘tomorrow!’ I said I couldn’t as I needed to be in Dubai working.
“Eventually when everything went through the team were leaving the next day to go to Senegal for the U20 African Cup of Nations.
“A couple of days later I flew out from here to Nigeria on transit and that was interesting. From there I went to Dakar and met the management.
“I had done my research and to be honest I felt the task might have been a little too big for me. But I think after the first session that I took, they realised that I was serious and the management slowly began to integrate me in other things like analysing games, assessing players and their ability.”
The month that followed was an eye opener for Al-Duri.
Thrown into the unknown culture of an African country, the dressing room of one of their premier national youth teams and the region’s biggest age-group competition was a daunting prospect but one that would excite anyone who enjoys the spoils of travel.
“That culture is phenomenal. It’s very spiritual and everything revolved around them creating music. They didn’t listen to any, they just made music. We’d all gather in a group circle and hold hands while one of the players prayed for us.
“As soon as that was done we would do the session and when that finished we’d get in a circle again, say the prayers and as soon as we all said ‘Amen’, one of the players, normally Clifford Aboagye, who plays for Granada in Spain, would start chanting and they’d all respond. This would turn into a dance and a clap and I’d just be trying to catch on to what’s going on.
“I thought it would be all work but they have a certain flavour about them that you just don’t see anywhere else in the world. They embraced me very quickly, especially as I wasn’t Ghanaian.”
A season-ticket holder at Arsenal, Al-Duri had dreamed of becoming a professional footballer before being ushered by his family towards the benefits of education.
It is a decision that he will never regret, having founded Platform 3 in Dubai and completed his FA badges and coaching on the side, all factors behind Ghana’s reasons for picking him to form a part of their backroom staff.
The tournament ultimately didn’t end in glory but the Black Satellites did seal a bronze medal after winning their third-place playoff against Mali. Al-Duri actually had a flight booked to leave during the second half but was able to at catch Ghana’s opener in a 3-1 win before setting off for Dubai.
The Under-20 tournament also serves as Africa’s qualifying for the FIFA U20 World Cup in New Zealand in May, which Ghana will now be a part of as a result of their third-place finish. They will feature in Group B alongside Argentina, Panama and Austria but Al-Duri has not yet been given the nod to join the team.
“There are whispers of joining up with the team for the World Cup and the coaches, players and doctors are all keen for me to go but it’s down to the federation to make a decision,” Al-Duri said.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the World Cup but I hope the players are looked after properly and they take on board what we’ve done in this previous campaign. I’ve already addressed that with them because there are certain things like their food and the organisation of training that need working on.”
Al-Duri has already travelled from Dubai to Dakar to follow his football dream; his greatest success may yet come Down Under.
Al-Duri's three most impressive Ghanaians
Yaw Yeboah (Midfielder, Manchester City)
Yao was one of them who had a disappointing start to the tournament but ended up our player of the tournament. He was sensational as the tournament wore on and has the ability to be a top player.
Clifford Aboagye (Midfielder, Granada)
He’s a Juninho-like player. He’s very quick, can use both feet, has a great eye for a pass and has a real good strike on him.
Joseph Aidoo (Defender, Inter Allies – captain)
He was the loudest in the team and used to call me ‘big bro’. Really nice lad who is a physical centre-half and built like a soldier. He can handle the ball too.
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