While Saudi Arabia fans have a right to be dazed and confused over the departure of Bert Van Marwijk and the appointment of Edgardo Bauza, it is counterparts in United Arab Emirates who have most to complain about as the federation has handed over their coach just 16 months ahead of the 2019 Asian Cup to be held on home soil.
First though, the Green Falcons. September 2017 should have been a month to remember as the nation elbowed the UAE out of the way to become West Asia’s premier Arabian football nation once more.
Al Hilal moved past Al Ain to the last four of the 2017 Asian Champions League to put the yoghurt sauce on the kebab dish that was qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since 2006.
All was well, until it wasn’t. Last week Bert Van Marwijk, appointed in August 2015, left his position as head coach.
“After qualifying for the World Cup with Saudi Arabia I stopped the negotiations about continuing with them,”Van Marwijk told Dutch media. ”Last week after qualification was secured a couple of members of my backroom staff were sacked and I find this to be unacceptable.”
Also, the Dutchman did not want to base himself in the country for the next nine months. In the two years since being appointed, Van Marwijk delegated much of the task to watching league games and keeping tabs on his players to his staff.
It is understandable to want your national team coach to live in the country. Yet the arrangement had worked pretty well for two years – Van Marwijk’s winning percentage is the highest in history – and a compromise could surely have been found had the will been there.
The Saudi FA has made what looks to be a hasty decision in letting go of a coach who has been in place for two years, has recent World Cup experience that few anywhere can match and has the trust of his players and affection of fans.
Bringing in a new man with time limited is an unnecessary risk. Bauza may have considerable experience but lasted just eight months with Argentina and was fired in April with a place in Russia looking uncertain. With the Gulf Cup, scheduled to be held in Qatar later this year, unlikely to go ahead given the political situation in the region, Bauza does not have much time or games to get to know his players.
Saudi Arabia has form in this and Gabriel Calderon may be feeling some sympathy for BVM. The Argentine took the Green Falcons through qualification for the 2006 World Cup, beating a strong South Korea home and away, and then was fired before the year was out and replaced by Brazilian boss Marqos Paqueta. Talk to the genial Calderon even now and he still shakes his head about what happened.
Yet such is football that if results go well in Russia next summer then few will remember or care about the build-up. Should they go badly, questions should be asked but probably will not.
As sudden and as unnecessary as it seems, Saudi Arabia is not alone. There are examples of other countries replacing coaches between securing qualification and kicking off the World Cup. Just in Asia, Korea did it ahead of 2006 and 2014. Iran’s Carlos Queiroz led South Africa to the 2002 tournament but was gone before it all started.
There is no point complaining about the short-term thinking that pervades the SAFF. This is the organisation’s nature and it follows its instincts just as the jellyfish stings those who get tangled in its tentacles.
There is only one positive to come out of the whole affair: at least UAE beat the Saudis in their World Cup qualifier on August 31. Imagine that. Had the Whites lost to their neighbours in a vital qualifier and then gave them their coach two weeks later, it would have looked very bad.
“Very” can downgraded to “pretty” because, regardless, the UAE FA’s actions are strange.
Not that long ago, the body was being hailed of an oasis of calm in the region by giving former coach Mahdi Ali time to work with and develop the so-called golden generation. The high-point came with third at the 2015 Asian Cup. The high hopes of a first qualification for the World Cup since 1990 did not last long but the federation did not panic.
Just two days before the storm broke, Bauza was in front of reporters outlining his long-term plans in the hot seat. OK, the 2018 World Cup was gone but there was still the fact that UAE are hosting the 2019 Asian Cup. They will never get a better chance to win the continental trophy.
All was calm and people were looking forward. Then the Saudis came calling and now the UAE are looking for a new coach.
“There was a request from the Saudi Arabian Football Federation and the UAE FA agreed to co-operate,” Hassan Al Jasmi, the UAEFA spokesman, told the Khaleej Times.”The UAEFA will hold a meeting next week and decide on the future.”
There is nothing wrong with co-operation but usually that means working together for mutual benefit.
Presumably, UAE spent plenty of time and effort to recruit the 59-year-old and felt he was the right man for the job. So either he was not the right man for the job or he was but has been sent to help someone else. Either way someone has made a major mistake; this is not the way a major federation should be operating.