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Spanish coach Pablo Prieto hopes to return to Libya to finish work with or ... - The Canadian Press
Tuesday, 01 March 2011 10:00
futsalwireThe Canadian PressLibya is Africa's top-ranked team and the North African champion in futsal, as indoor football is called. The country is 21st in the world rankings for the five-a-side game played on indoor parquet. Government opponents and forces loyal to the ...Bleacher ReportSI.com

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Spanish coach Pablo Prieto hopes to return to Libya to finish work with or without Gadhafi By Paul Logothetis (CP) – 6 days ago MADRID — Relieved to have escaped the fear and chaos gripping Libya, Pablo Prieto hopes to one day return and finish the work he started as coach of the country's national indoor football team.The 46-year-old Spanish coach was in charge of the team when growing protests forced him to flee after 14 months in the North African country.Despite the fear that Prieto felt in the days before his departure on a charter flight, he wants to return and see out his contract which runs until Dec.

31 if things eventually settle down.With or without Moammar Gadhafi in charge."I'd have no problem with that.

They treated me well.

The working conditions were very good and so I wouldn't have a problem," Prieto told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

"It's an uncomfortable situation so for the moment I don't think about it."Libya is Africa's top-ranked team and the North African champion in futsal, as indoor football is called.

The country is 21st in the world rankings for the five-a-side game played on indoor parquet.Government opponents and forces loyal to the government are battling over control of the country as the international community condemns Gadhafi's refusal to relinquish power after 41 years.

An estimated 75,000 people have fled the country.During the turmoil, Prieto's telephone line didn't work and the Internet connection was slow, but he was able to gather news from friends and family in Spain.

Prieto said his guarded home shielded him from the realities of the street fighting going on, until he had to make a trip to the Spanish embassy."There we saw images that I'll never forget as long as I live: burned out buildings and cars on the street, everything destroyed, in rubble," Prieto said of his drive along Avenue Sharia Omar.

"The situation fed fear, more anxiety.

On the afternoon of the 22nd I was scared scared we wouldn't get out of the country, scared of the gun shots I heard at night."Prieto said chaos at the airport didn't ease his fears "the airport was completely collapsed, there were thousands and thousands of people" but eventually he and his assistant, Luis Castellano, managed to get seats on a charter flight organized by Spanish oil company Repsol.

He was back in Spain by Friday."I was lucky to get out so quick," Prieto said.Prieto said he is in contact with his Libyan translator, Isa Ibrahim, who describes daily scenes over the phone as "very bad, each day is worse than the next.

It's extremely chaotic right now, a critical moment."Prieto never had the chance to meet Gadhafi, but was hired in December 2009 by his nephew Saadi Abdesalam Saadi, the head of Libya's futsal program."His treatment was exquisite.

He was very professional, someone dedicated 24 hours a day to indoor football so we had every necessary means available to work with," Prieto said.

"He was very demanding and a very noble person."He did meet the son of Gadhafi, but it was only a handshake at a match attended by the Libyan Olympic Committee leader.Prieto lived in a suburban neighbourhood of Tripoli with good security and European neighbours that never felt the brunt of the uprising.

One night, he and Castellano were forced indoors at a local restaurant after word got out that crowds were near, but nothing happened.Prieto called his working conditions "model" with his team made up of Spanish staff and one Brazilian, in addition to Ibrahim and a Portuguese translator.Finding talent was the biggest challenge without a national league to pluck players from, but Prieto identified prospects through friendly tournaments.

There had been improvement by the time he left as the team played more than 80 matches in 2010 after managing less than 40 before he his arrival.But on a trip to Rome last month, he started noticing headlines about unrest in Libya."I said to one of my colleagues 'What's going on?' But he just said 'Pablo, relax, absolutely nothing's going to happen.

Don't worry about it,'" Prieto said.He returned to Tripoli on Feb.

17 and was back at the Al Riya-Riya sports centre training with the team when directives came down to cancel practice the next day and stay home.

Those directives never changed.Inside the dressing room, politics were not a regular topic but Prieto felt most of the entourage must have been Gadhafi sympathizers.

He wasn't sure about Ibrahim."He never identified where his allegiances were.

Our entourage was loyal to the leader, I suppose," Prieto said.

"The players never really came out on what was happening.

(The coaching staff) didn't talk politics.

The players neither, I guess."Prieto, who previously coached Spanish teams in his native Ferrol and in Seville, fears that all the hard work to improve the Libyan team will go to waste."We did good work.

We got the team up to a certain world standard.

We're happy with what we did," Prieto said.

"Now, it doesn't look good."