That didn’t last long. Even after being handed one of football’s least secure jobs, Edgardo Bauza must still have expected to last more than two months.
The Argentine’s brief spell as coach of Saudi Arabia lasted five international friendlies, two wins and three losses.
His brief reign was enough for the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) to decide he was not up to the task of managing the national team at next summer’s World Cup in Russia.
As sudden as the dismissal was, it was anything but surprising.
Bert van Marwijk’s puzzling departure from the job after taking Saudi to the World Cup looked hasty from the outset. Replacing him with Bauza now looks an even worse decision.
Few will envy the new man’s task.
Already, the momentum that had been building during the qualification campaign has been disrupted if not completely halted. With a new manager coming in with new ideas, tactics and, very likely, less than comprehensive knowledge of the squad and Saudi football in general, more instability is expected.
This is familiar territory for Saudi and many other West Asian nations. History reveals an almost fetishistic tendency for changing managers before World Cups and major competitions.
In 1986, Iraq sacked Brazilian Jorge Vieira, the manager who had led the country to the World Cup in Mexico, mere months before the tournament began. To the disappointment of most fans, in came countryman Edú Coimbra, brother of the legendary Zico.
A few unsuccessful friendlies later, Edu was himself replaced by Evaristo de Macedo. While such shambolic management can be put down to the whims of the unstable Uday Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein and head of the Iraq Football Association, other similar last minute disruptions around the Middle East seem to stem more from cultural and institutional habits.
Four years after Iraq’s poor showing in Mexico, the UAE, led by Brazilian legend Mario Zagalo, pulled off a miracle by reaching Italia 90. Yet after the euphoria of qualification had subsided, Zagalo, who had been in the job for just over a year, was replaced by his predecessor Carlos Alberto Parreira.
While the managerial upheaval arguably had little influence on the UAE’s three defeats against powerful West German, Yugoslavian and Colombian teams, it certainly couldn’t have helped.
From 1994, Saudi Arabia qualified to a remarkable four consecutive World Cups. It’s there that the fun and games begin.
After leading the country to a historic first World Cup qualification, Dutchman Leo Beenhakker was let go by the SAFF less than six months before the start of USA 94. They even managed two interim managers in Mohammed Al Kharashy and the Brazilian Ivo Wortman, before handing the reins to Argentinian coach Jorge Scholari. Incredibly, Saudi performed significantly above expectations, beating Belgium on the way to the last 16 where they lost to Sweden.
Four years later, it was déjà vu all over again, but this time the element of farce was pumped up to 11. The German Otto Pfister had guided Saudi to France 98, but was dismissed after demanding more autonomy in team matters.
He was replaced by regional favourite Parreira. After two defeats against Denmark and hosts France, the Brazilian, who had won the World Cup with Brazil four years earlier, was unceremoniously dumped mid-tournament, and replaced by perennial stand-by Al Kharashy for the last match against South Africa.
The 2002 qualification campaign was launched under Slobodan Santrac, who lasted two winless games before being replaced by the Saudi Nasser Al Johar who guided his nation to Japan and Korea in August 2001. He miraculously lasted a relatively eonic 10 months to take charge of the national team at the World Cup, though a dismal showing – including a 8-0 defeat to Germany – must have made him wonder why the SAFF chose such a time to become less proactive.
Argentinian coach Gabriel Calderon succeeded in leading Saudi to the 2006 World Cup in Germany, but he could hardly have been shocked that he too was dismissed months later for underperforming in the relatively insignificant West Asia Championships. Marcos Paquetta of Brazil was given the hotseat six months before the start of the competition and, not surprisingly, Saudi exited the group stages after two defeats and a draw.
Which brings us to the van Marwijk/Bauza fiasco.
The Dutchman not only oversaw the successful qualification to Russia, but had also revamped Saudi football from grass roots to national team level. His dismissal was wholly avoidable.
Bauza’s appointment mad little sense to start with, but whatever his faults are, no manager could possibly be expected to make a significant impact in such a short period of time, and under so much pressure.
Now, whoever the SAFF bring in will have no more than seven months to get to know his squad and bring semblance of stability and direction to the squad, never mind implement his own tactics, in the remaining friendlies before the World Cup in Russia gets under way.
It’s not a long time by any means, but certainly long enough to squeeze one or two more dismissals before the summer comes around.