Blood, sweat and many tears: Jordan’s No 1 opens up to the JOC about his bumpy ride in football.
The sometimes outspoken, often controversial, but always brilliant, Amer Shafi’ has been one of Jordan football’s most colourful characters over the past decade.
His imposing figure and connection with the fans has made him a terrace favourite, and earned him the nickname of ‘The Whale’ which doesn’t translate too well to English.
But nevertheless, while his brushes with authority have grabbed its share of negative headlines, his brilliant performances for both Al Wehdat and Jordan have garnered admiration, not just from his homeland, but from across the continent where he is often talked about as one of Asia’s best goalkeepers.
“I love this sport and I am really passionate about football, my team and my teammates and sometimes that gets the better of me and lands me in trouble if I feel I see an injustice on the field,” said the 34 year old, in an exclusive interview with www.joc.jo.
It is possible that this is why Shafi’ was overlooked when coach Ray Wilkins took the helm of the National team last year, but by the time the Asian Cup came arrived in January, he was firmly back as the country’s number one stopper.
While most people see the charismatic, bullish figure commanding his goal at all costs during matches, we often don’t realise who the man in the shirt actually is.
Married with two boys, Wesam and Yousef, Shafi’ likes nothing better than spending time away from the game with his family and admits to being partial to Mansaf and Mulokhieh.
He initially started as a goalscorer in junior football with Al Yarmouk before turning to goalkeeping, where his career took off.
Then, in 2004, professional football called and after some impressive performances, he was firmly established by coach Mahmoud Al Johari as his country’s top goalkeeper.
He is one of the few players to have played for both arch rivals Feisali and Al Wehdat, with a short spell at Egypt’s Al Isma'ili in between. Despite his high profile and consistently high level performances, he has never ventured into the big money European Leagues.
“There has been interest over the years but nothing has come of it,” he said. “There’s been offers have but we lack professional athlete agents in this part of the world so weakness in communications prevented it happening.”
That, of course, is good news for Jordan and his club as Shafi’ has indicated that he will see out his playing days on home soil.
One particular match that Shafi’ remembers is the Japan game at the Asian Cup quarter finals in 2004 when defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory in a controversial penalty shoot out. With Jordan needing just one more spot kick, the referee ordered teams to change ends due to the condition of the penalty spot. This unsettled the Nashama who eventually went out.
“I cried after that game,” he remembers. “We had the chance to make history. I felt we were the best team at the competition. It was a sad moment, not just for me but for the whole of Jordan.”
His most memorable moment came when he performed heroics against Uzbekistan to help Jordan qualify for the World Cup play-off match. Only the birth of his sons match moments like that, he said. They eventually lost to Uruguay in 2013 and missed out on going to Brazil.
Shafi’ says he is a fan of Barcelona but a huge admirer of Cristiano Ronaldo as well as Lionel Messi. On an Arab level he rates Saudi Arabia’s retired star Mohammad Shalhoub as the best, while Mahmoud Shelbayeh and Amer Deib are his favourite Jordanian stars.
Despite his age, Shafi’ believes he still has several years of playing ahead of him when he will then move into goalkeeping coaching as he dreams of creating his own goalkeeping academy.
Locally, he pointed out the work that HRH Prince Feisal Al Hussein is doing with the Jordan Olympic Committee (JOC) and also the football programmes implemented by HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein as proof that sport is moving in the right direction here.
“Their Royal Highnesses have tremendous wisdom and vision to drive us all forward with them,” said Shafi’. “I also believe the Black Iris Sports Awards (organised by the JOC) are a great way of recognizing the talent we have here in Jordan across all sports.”
For now it seems that the Shafi’ show will continue and there are bound to be a few twists and turns along the way. But it will be a big hole to fill when ‘The Whale’ finally calls it a day.