Siraj Al Tall ? The future of Australian football?


Despite being born in the United Arab Emirates on the 8th of January, 1982, the 26 year-old has gone on to become a Jordanian national. His football career began at the age of 17, when he impressed at the trials of one of the largest clubs in Asia ? Jordanian superpower Al-Faisaly ? and was selected to join their youth side.
Siraj would continue his career at the club until 2007, forging a reputation as one of the deadliest strikers in West Asia. His goal-scoring accolades and achievements began in Faisaly?s youth sides and were no less impressive during his life with the first-team.
At just 18 years old, Al Tall won the club?s ?Sharpshooter? award for his 3 goals scored during Faisaly?s Jerusalem Championship success (a tournament organized in Iraq at the time) and in his debut year in the first team, took part in the club?s domestic treble, winning the league, cup and super cup.
During the next three years, Al Tall?s reputation within the club began to grow as Al-Faisaly enjoyed one of the most successful periods in their decorated history; enjoying successive league championships, super cups, league cups and winning the Jordanian FA Shield. But it would be the 2003/2004 season in which Al Tall would establish himself as a key member of the first team at Al-Faisaly, winning the domestic league and cup double.
Whilst enjoying consecutive successes on the domestic stage, Siraj went on to be part of the Faisaly side who would finish runners up at the 2006/2007 Arab Championship Tournament, one of the most illustrious competitions in the region, where some of the strongest Arab clubs participate.
It would be in the AFC Cup though, where Al Tall would enjoy his most famous moments with the club, as Al-Faisaly went on to win two consecutive AFC Cup titles ? the premier cup competition for developing football nations in Asia. The towering striker wrote himself into Jordanian football folk-lore when he scored the winning goal in the final minute of the AFC Cup final against Bahraini club Muhharaq, after coming on as a substitute with only ten minutes remaining. Siraj?s historic goal would officially confirm Al-Faisaly as one of the best sides in Asia and the Arab region, bringing an end to an illustrious career at one of the biggest clubs in Asia.
Undoubtedly though, the pinnacle of Al Tall?s life as a footballer was representing his adopted nation of Jordan during the qualification process for the 2007 Asian Cup. In a rather cruel twist of fate, Siraj would make both of his appearances against his nation of birth ? the UAE ? in a qualifying group which also included Oman and Pakistan; a group which Oman would eventually go on to top, qualifying for the Asian Cup before meeting Australia in their opening match and earning a 1-1 draw with the Socceroos.
Siraj?s record of 10 appearances and 4 goals for the Jordanian national team may not seem particularly impressive but his is still a developing career. The pedigree of this young man cannot be understated. To understand the significance of having starred for a club such as Al-Faisaly, one would need only look at their past success: 30 league titles, 16 Jordanian FA Cups, 5 Jordanian FA Shields,13 Jordanian Super Cups and 2 AFC Cups.
The club is also known as ?Al Za’eem? and “Al Ameed” among fans because of its success and age. It is the oldest club in Jordan, having been founded in 1932 and boasting one of the largest, most partisan fan bases in the country.
It is perplexing then, that the arrival of Al Tall to Australia has gone relatively unnoticed. The Jordanian has had to suffer the ignorance of Australian football culture and endless beaurocratic obstacles in his search for a new life.
Siraj arrives in Australia as a student, looking to complete his education but with a determination to prove that he has something a little different to offer to Australian football. Siraj is a symbol of the dreams of many Jordanians and Middle-Eastern footballers and citizens alike.
For most children growing up in Jordan, to grow up to play football is to live the dream. Although Jordan have never qualified for a World Cup, their first appearance at the Asian Cup in 2004 was a successful one, in which they reached the Quarter-Finals before being knocked-out on penalties by eventual champions Japan. Despite the growth of the game in Jordan, the semi-professional status that football holds in the region is a barrier to the football dreams of its 6 million inhabitants.
For the aspiring Siraj and those like him, the only option is to work in order to support his football career ? which makes his plight all the more difficult.
But Australia offers a haven for Siraj and potentially for some 3.7 billion others like him in the Asian and Middle-Eastern region. In a nation where work and sport culture are entwined, players of the caliber and ambition of Siraj have a chance to turn their dreams into reality.
Until September at least, Sydney Olympic and the Telechoice Premier League will provide this talented footballer with a chance to not only develop his own career ? both domestically and internationally ? but to also contribute the unique characteristics of his own football culture to his new home.
There are so many footballers like Siraj who are waiting for a similar opportunity throughout West Asia. If they too arrive at Australia?s doorsteps, they will be able to culturally enrich our country both on and off the pitch, just as this humble and hard-working Jordanian has already done in such a short space of time with a blue-and-white striped jersey. All this country and its governing football bodies need, is to look a little harder.
As he prepares to help Sydney Olympic drive toward a top 5 place and perhaps win himself an A-League contract along the way, Siraj Al Tall may or may not become a household name during the next couple of years. But the manner in which he has carried himself over the past 6 months suggests that he represents at least one future pathway for football ? and society – in Australia.
For the first time, Football NSW catches up with student, male model and fully-fledged international Siraj Al Tall, to talk about the tough times he has already experienced and the opportunities that lie ahead.
FNSW: Siraj, you?ve had a slow start to your Olympic career but it hasn?t helped that there was a little trouble in trying to get you to play for the club. It took a while for you to get clearance from the Jordanian Football Association and your club Al-Faisaly to play for Sydney Olympic but it finally happened. You must be happy to finally be playing football?
SAT: Absolutely! I had some problems at the beginning because I was waiting for my International Transfer Certificate (ICT) to start playing, so I was really frustrated. So when I got my clearance at least, I was extremely happy because I wanted to play so badly.
I spent so much time not playing football that I couldn?t wait to start. All my friends, all my team-mates and the coach (Milan Blagojevic) helped me to come into the team and start playing.
FNSW: You?re obviously very happy at Olympic, everyone seems to have treated you well. Are you fitting in well with your new team-mates and management?
SAT: All of my team-mates, all my coaches, treat me very well and I feel like I?m with my family here. I?d like to maintain this relationship with the club and its personnel for a long time.
FNSW: You arrived in Australia alone six months ago. Is football the most familiar aspect of life you have over here in Australia?
SAT: My brother?s friend is over here studying as well actually. That?s the reason I came over here to Australia, to continue my studies. I?m supposed to start studying this semester but I might delay it until next semester. I might be at the University of New South Wales, but I?m not sure because I have offers from Sydney University and UTS and I?m still deciding on where I?m going to go.
FNSW: Your studies seem to be such an important aspect of your life. Does it leave much time for your football career to develop? Is football still your main passion and priority?
SAT: When I was a kid I dreamt of being a soccer player. In Jordan though we don?t have that professional level, so it isn?t useful to only be a soccer player; you have to find something else. You need to continue studying, to find a good job to be able to live with it but if I had a good contract with a football club, where I earned a decent salary, it would be a dream come true and I would be able to continue my football career.?
FNSW: Coming from Jordan to Australia must have been a bit of a culture shock. How different is the lifestyle in Australia and how are you adapting to your new home?
SAT: Australia is a multicultural country, there are just so many nationalities here. It is very different because Jordan is a very small country, not that diverse culturally and in terms of nationalities, it is virtually only Arab people who live and travel to Jordan.
But over here, you will find people from South American, Europe, Asia, from all around the world; it is really multicultural. There are a lot of people, so you connect with different people all the time. It can be very enjoyable, but very challenging at the same time.
FNSW: You played for the biggest club in Jordan and one of the most successful in the Middle East. What was Al-Faisaly like as a club and what was it like playing for them?
SAT: When you talk about Al-Faisaly, you are talking about one of the best teams in Jordan. The last 2 or 3 years it has been recognized as one of the best Arab teams and one of the best Asian teams because they have won the AFC Cup two times, for two straight years and we won second place in the third year of our participation. The two biggest teams in Jordan are Al-Faisaly and our main rivals Al-Wihdat (current champions) but we are the best team in Jordan. We have won the league 30 times, the cup 16 times, we have a big fan-base in Jordan and Faisaly is famous among the Arabic nations.?
FNSW: Was the reason for leaving Jordan and Al-Faisaly only to study? How did your football career influence your move?
SAT: I was already planning to continue my masters degree to help me continue my life and keep playing soccer. For the first two or three years I applied for some universities and while we (Jordan) were trying to qualify for the Asian Cup I kept delaying my studies for year after year but eventually I decided I had to continue studying.
I decided to come here to Australia to continue studying and I was also lucky to find a club here. I hope to continue playing here and find an A-League club.
FNSW: You were playing in Jordan for so long, forging a reputation as a key member of one of the most decorated clubs in Asian football. Was it tough coming to Australia and leaving all of that behind?
SAT: I think that was why there were problems with my club allowing clearing me to play in Australia. In Jordan we aren?t professionals, so we don?t have professional contracts but they were calling me back, saying that I?d have to play for them. But I made my decision not to go back, so I have no regrets.
FNSW: How long do you want to stay at Sydney Olympic for? Is it purely a short-term move or will you stay for a little longer and then try and earn an A-League contract?
SAT: When I came here I found my agent Chris Tanner and unfortunately, the player registration for A-League clubs was closed. So he found me another club ? Sydney Olympic ? and it turns out that this is a great club that I?m playing with, with a great atmosphere.
We will finish in August or September this season and hopefully I will be fortunate enough to earn an A-League contract because it is the highest level of football here in Australia.
FNSW: You enjoyed a playing career that has taken you throughout the Middle-East, can a comparison be made between say, Jordanian football, and Australian football? In terms of standard, style and culture, what do you think sets them apart?
SAT: We (in Jordan) don?t have the same level of fitness because here in Australia, football is dependant on the fitness and strength of the players. They have to be fully fit and tough, so tactics and skill perhaps aren?t a priority in Australian football.
In Jordan however, we only depend on our skill to play football, so it was a bit difficult for me to adapt to the physicality of Australian football but now I think I?m on the right path so everything is OK.?
FNSW: How long do you plan to stay in Australia, studying and playing football. Will you be here for the rest of your life?
SAT: No I don?t think so. Probably about 2 years at the moment but if I get a decent contract, I might stay a little longer!
FNSW: Given your reputation as a Jordanian international, were you a bit frustrated that A-League clubs didn?t come after you immediately? Are good enough to play in the A-League? 
SAT: I know that I am good enough but maybe I wasn?t sought after because no-one knew about me. I was playing for the best club in Jordan, amongst the best teams in the Arab region in the Arab Championships, so I definitely think I can play in the A-League. I think those clubs that I?ve played against are good enough to compete in the A-league.
FNSW: From your experiences in the Middle-East, are there a lot of players out there who are good enough to play in the A-league and should Australian clubs look to find more players such as yourself?
SAT: Yes. I think maybe the Australian coaches don?t know a lot of things about the Arab leagues. But we have so much talent in Asia and the Middle-East and we want to help the A-League, to bring our skills to this game and help improve it. I think it would be fantastic for Australian football.
FNSW: On a personal level, how important has football been in your life? This game means different things to different people around the world, but from an Asian and Middle-Eastern perspective, what does football mean to you?
SAT: In Jordan, I think most of the kids have dreams of playing soccer. I?ve been obsessed with football throughout my entire life. When I was a kid I only dreamed of becoming a player, I was watching all of the matches from the World Cup, European Championships, everything. It is a very important part of my life and I can?t operate ? I can?t live ? without football. It is a big thing for me.?
FNSW: Sydney Olympic isn?t quite as big as some of the Middle-Eastern clubs but how much did you know about the club before it arrived?
SAT: To be honest I didn?t know much about Australian football before I arrived. It was very hard to watch the league and it isn?t famous in Jordan. Not a lot of people watch it. Instead, most of the people know of the Premier League, Calcio or Spanish League.
But I think Australians should watch the Jordanian league and Jordanian people should watch the Australian league. Really, we are part of the same group of footballers and nations, so we can definitely help each other in many ways.
FNSW: If you had to highlight a particular moment in your career, what would it be?
SAT: When I scored the goal that won AFC Cup in 2006. I got onto the field during the last 10 minutes, and managed to score the away goal that crowned us (Al-Faisaly) champions. It was the most wonderful moment of my life!
FNSW: Siraj, thank you for your time and best of luck with your studies and your football career.
SAT: Thank you very much.
-Interview by Chris Paraskevas