‘I achieved glory at Man Utd, now I manage Afghanistan amid 18-player boycott’

Man Utd are making huge changes ahead of Sir Jim Ratcliffe coming into the club | Football Digest

It’s one of the sport’s oldest cliches, ‘the hardest job in football’. Such a definition could be based on different aspects: a club’s size, financial situation, political stance, etc. But it might actually be the case for former Manchester United academy star Ashley Westwood, the new manager of Afghanistan.

He’s no stranger to adversity. Westwood was the assistant manager when Portsmouth entered administration, worked for Blackpool under the toxic Oysten regime and the sack-happy Venky family’s Blackburn Rovers.

But even for a coach of his experience, becoming the leader of Afghanistan’s national team takes the bacon.

Westwood started his 17-year career at United, winning the FA Youth Cup alongside Phil Neville in 1995.

He went on to enjoy a successful career in this English Football League, representing clubs like Crewe Alexandra, Northampton Town, Bradford City and Wrexham.

After his 2012 retirement and subsequent coaching spells at Portsmouth, Blackpool and Blackburn, Westwood was named manager of Bengaluru FC and became the youngest manager to win the I-League title in 2014.

He took charge of Malaysian Super League side Penang after a three-year tenure with Bengaluru, spending one year there and at RoundGlass Punjab on either side of a technical director gig at ATK.

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But now the 47-year-old faces arguably his toughest and most peculiar task yet – thanks to the Afghan players impressed with his work in India who recommended him – guiding the nation to the 2026 World Cup.

Well… that might be optimistic, especially considering the mass player boycott he has inherited and the fact Afghanistan can’t play home games in their own country.

Eighteen players are currently boycotting international duty due to allegations of corruption in the Afghan Football Federation.

The Guardian report that three overseas-based players have signed a letter stating their complaints and sent it to FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation this month.

Noor Husin, Farshad Noor and Faysal Shayesteh – all part of the squad that beat Mongolia 2-0 on aggregate in the first round of qualifying – have alleged a serious mismanagement of finances.

The trio has called on FIFA to investigate claims that senior AFF officials have been misusing funds meant to be invested in developing football in Afghanistan.

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Westwood’s task was uphill, to say the least, as advertised. However, he faces an almost impossible task while practically going without an entire senior squad.

His debut was one to forget. Afghanistan lost their opening qualifier 8-1 against ex-United assistant Carlos Quieroz’s Qatar in Doha last week.

Qatar are 61st in the FIFA world rankings, to be fair. In comparison, Afghanistan sit 154th between Lesotho and Singapore.

Five second-round qualifying games remain – the return fixture against Qatar and two clashes with Kuwait and India.

Westwood has signed a one-year contract. But he reportedly had concerns about the ongoing player dispute before his arrival.

Whether he lasts the full term is anyone’s guess, but the man from Manchester is in for one hell of an experience.

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