Almost ambushed, Afghan football’s foreign coach remains undeterred

December 11, 2015 will remain etched in Petar Segrt’s memory. It was the day when Afghanistan’s national football team almost got ambushed in Kabul.

football Updated: Dec 25, 2015 10:23 IST
Rajesh Pansare
Rajesh Pansare
Hindustan Times
Afghanistan football team,Coach Petar Segrt,Attack on Spanish Embassy guesthouse in Kabul
Afghanistan football team’s Croatian-born German coach Petar Segrt.(File photo)

Friday, December 11, 2015 will remain etched in Petar Segrt’s memory. It was the day when Afghanistan’s national football team almost got ambushed in Kabul. Luckily, no one was hurt. The militants attacked a guesthouse attached to the Spanish Embassy and the siege ended in the wee hours of Saturday.

“Our team hotel was just down the road from the guesthouse and we were returning from a function. Luckily for us, the attack happened after we had passed,” Sergt told HT. “I was in the hotel lobby and suddenly I heard a bomb go off and then the gunfire. It was a scary situation as some of our players, especially the local ones, had gone out to meet their families.”

The ‘Lions of Khorasan’, the nickname given to the Afghan team, were in Kabul for a three-day camp and were preparing to fly to Doha for the preparatory camp for the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Cup. According to Segrt, it was the first time that a national camp involving Europe-based players as well was organised in the country.

With players out on the streets, Sergt felt helpless. “I feared for them. Everyone was told to stay put wherever they were. The priority was their safety.”

Born in Durdevac, Croatia, he understands the stress the people live under in a war-ravaged country. Croatia too was involved in a civil war when it was part of Yugoslavia before it declared independence in 1991.

“I went crazy, I wanted to go out but couldn’t. I didn’t sleep the entire night. I relaxed only when all the players were back. There was speculation that some of us were hurt but the next day we had a media conference with the entire team. Everyone was scared but we didn’t show it,” he said.

Given the situation in Afghanistan, Sergt’s girlfriend and well-wishers didn’t like the idea of him taking up the offer. But before anyone could change his mind, he was on the flight to Kabul to sign on the dotted line. “It was a very difficult decision. I knew the situation was very dangerous and my girlfriend was very unhappy with me risking my life,” said Segrt.

Among his well-wishers were the current Germany coach Joachim Loew and former German international Oliver Bierhoff.

“When I first told them, they were taken aback. They told me ‘we know you have a very social thinking but you have to know this is a very important decision and you have to tread carefully’.”

Ever since he signed the contract in the first week of November, Segrt has spent most of his time in Kabul, preparing the blueprint for the development of Afghan football. He also has two bodyguards, who accompany him 24x7. And, despite the current incident, he has no plans to return to his country.

First Published: Dec 25, 2015 09:41 IST