He was a member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) during the struggle against the Derg regime since 1975-91. After the Derg regime was defeated, he served as the head of the national defense force logistics supply and also founded Dedebit Football club in 1997. He has managed the club for 16 years until he left five years ago. Dedebit won the 2012/13 Ethiopian Premier League (EPL) season under his management. Awol Abduramin (Colonel) is currently working as the deputy president of the Ethiopia Football Federation (EFF). Dawit Tolesa of The Reporter sat down with Col. Awol to discuss Dedebit Football club’s evolution and it future. Excerpts:
Reporter: How did Dedebit FC come into existence?
Colonel Awol: Basically, it has come a long way to compete at the Ethiopian Premier League level. As the name indicates, “Dedebit” was a place where TPLF was founded and waged a struggle from 1975 to 1991. When I was there, it was my hobby to watch football and support some clubs in the English League. So, eventually, I went on to form a new club by setting goals which would help me shape my team. After making some preparation, in 1997, Dedebit project level U-13, U-15 and U-17 team was launched. Afterwards, step by step, we started playing in Addis Ababa division one championship, national league and eventually the premier league. In all through the process, our team was very impressive and different individuals, officials and fans were supportive of the team.
What was your main challenge in this?
It was really a challenge to build a team. You have to setup a plan for every step you are going to take. For example, forming U-13 and U-17 team, it is completely different. So, it was a challenge for me to get enough finance to recruit players and provide them with enough access to materials in order to see them outstanding in the competition level. I, my wife and my partner were the first people to help through the formation of the U-13 team.
What was your source of income while Dedebit was in development?
As we all know, it is impossible to form a club dependent on fans in Ethiopia; since we do not have a system that enables fans to contribute monthly. In addition, the monthly payment is not as big as you think. But, as for the activities to form the club, we just began with the registration of fans. After we concluded our regular club registration process in the then Sport’s Commission in 2006, we tried to increase our income by hosting music concerts and searching for various source of income from individuals. Hence, I can say our main source of income were individuals.
Dedebit was promoted to the Ethiopian Premier League (EPL) for the first time in 2008. What was your target when you join a new competition?
After our promotion to the league, I had a discussion with several coaches. One was Coach Wubetu Abate. I told him that Dedebit should finish the season in the top four. But, as we are a new face in the league, everybody suggested it would be good enough if the club managed to stay in the league. Nevertheless, such kind of comment was unacceptable for me because, if your team is competitive and consistent, you can be a winner in any competition. Jimma Aba Jiffar became the champions of 2017/18 EPL. The players were in a good form as a new promoted club that season. We ended up in the top of the league in the first round and we achieved knock-out cup ties.
What do you think is the contribution of Dedebit FC in the Ethiopian football?
Well, the 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons were an impressive season for Dedebit. In 2014/15 EPL season, Dedebit won the title creating many rivalries. So, I confidently say that Dedebit was influential to make changes in the structure of Ethiopia Football Federation (EFF), by suggesting ideas and commenting on rules in the General assembly. Dedebit have shared various experiences in player transfer issues and players payment of incentives. Dedebit only pay incentives if the team wins an away match. We believed that clubs should only pay balanced fee for players while transferring to other clubs. Now, many clubs follow an unfair way of transferring players. We have to pay comparable fees to their performance. So, you have to be able to identify players who deserve 100,000 and 20,000 birr per month. Though, beyond competing in the league, we have contributed different things to this league. Even though, we were the first club to hire a coach with low wages which was 25,000 birr.
What was the next step for Dedebit as one of the popular club in the league?
Besides being one of the top clubs in the league, our prior aim was to be a professional club and the main source of players for recruiting at different stages. So, the next step is to plan a ten years strategy which helps us recruit youth players. The next aim was to strength our financial capacity. Again, we set a financial strategy which offers 25 shareholders to become company owners. We tried a lot to find local and foreign companies capable of buying this offer. But, we couldn’t find anyone.
Do you consider clubs in Ethiopia as professionals?
Well, when we say the clubs should be professional, it means they have to be well formed and have a long term and short term goal by evaluating their everyday matches. Through all these, you have to include recruiting and getting players at a level of professional standard and strengthen your financial capability. When we say strengthening finance; the clubs need to have their own stadium, training turf, planes and malls.
After you managed Dedebit FC, you left the team. What was the main reason?
As I told you before, our main goals in leading this club was to form a team of professionals. But, it become impossible to go a long way as we planned. Our financial support helped us only to run normal competitions. So, that was not enough for me to stay with the club and extend my aim. Following our plan, Addis Ababa city administration allowed us 120,000 sq.km of land around Ayat area to build our stadium. But, we couldn’t make it happen due to the lack of sufficient budget. After, we discussed the relative issues; we reached at an agreement to give the club to another responsible person.
Recently, due to financial problems, Dedebit’s management announced that the team will move to Mekele and some fear that the club might not even exist in the near future. What do you say about it?
For me, it is difficult to give a detailed analysis of the decision. I do not have any information. But, I think nothing will change if the club is in Addis Ababa or in Mekele. They are transferring players with the same price. So, moving to the region is not a solution for a financial problem. Personally, it does not convince me.