Kevork Koumashian, 24, plays as center defender for Homenetmen Beirut F.C., in the Lebanese Second Division. Pushing the ball since the age of 8, he learned the art of juggling trainings, school and, later, work. Amidst the excitement of the World Cup, this supporter of England shared with us his thoughts on the practice of a high-performance sport in Lebanon.

You are playing as a center defender. What do you like about this position?

Everyone wants to be an attacker and to score goals. Though according to me, defender is a much better position. Teams are always led from the back. You must have a loud voice, be aggressive and tough. Most football leaders started from that position. 

Do you have a role model in football?

I would say Youssef Mohammed. A lot of Lebanese footballers have played outside the country but not in big leagues. Youssef Mohammed is the best Lebanese footballer that has ever played in Europe and, on the contrary, he succeeded in becoming captain of a European top-league team: the FC Köln, in the German Bundesliga. He also served as a captain of the Lebanese national football team.

According to you, why aren’t there more Lebanese footballers abroad?

Football is a very popular sport in Lebanon and the quality of local teams is improving. But it lacks professionalism, like many other sports except maybe basketball. The Lebanese Football Association still thinks in an old-fashioned way and doesn’t have the means to modernize itself. Sponsors, media coverage and facilities aren’t good enough. We need big stadiums with fine dressing rooms, good crowd stands and quality training grounds. Without a real change, Lebanese players will lose their hope of joining professional football and stop training from an early age.

How did you manage studying and training?

In Lebanon, school schedules aren’t adapted for the practice of a top-level sport. But this doesn’t mean you can’t study and play football at the same time. Many football players in the World Cup have great diplomas. For instance Belgium’s former captain, Vincent Kompany, holds a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA). The key to success is good time management. I had trainings every evening and matches on weekends. Finding time to study was hard. I had to be very focused during classes and sometimes to work overnight during exams.

Read also: 8 coworking spaces in Lebanon to pop in just for a day

This must require a very strict discipline…

Yes indeed. In Lebanon, I know a lot of players who sacrificed everything for football. In the end, some of them achieved what they wanted, made good money and invested it in their own business. But some others, though very good players, were less lucky and lost everything. Because they renounced to their studies to train, they now have to struggle with two or three jobs to make ends meet. That’s why my parents didn’t support me so much, especially when I had to enter university.

In fact, you now also have a full-time job on the side. Playing isn’t paying the bills?

For me football is not solely a hobby or a job, it is both. It is a semi-professional activity. When I was younger I used to study and play, now I work and play. The salary I get is not bad, it is enough to live and enjoy, but surely not enough to retire at the age of 35. Besides, there might be some months when you won’t get paid because the club won’t have the funds. That’s why Lebanese footballers in general make sure to have another job. Clubs know that and manage training times accordingly, in the evenings. Having graduated with a B.A. in business administration from Haigazian University, I now work for a private company in the luxury real estate sector.

Are you also willing to play abroad one day?

Of course! But this will depend on opportunities. You never know what will happen in football. I’m a big fan of Manchester United.

What would be your advice to any young Lebanese player?

That he must do what he loves, not matter what others say and not just in sport. Doing so, he can go very far.

Read also: Abdallah Ghattas: “the Lebanese youth lacks the ability to chose”