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A Coach, and a Team, Struck Down on Verge of Breakthrough

November 28th, 2016 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Arabian Gulf League, Dubai, Football, soccer, The National

His given name was Luiz Carlos Saroli, but he was known by the informal Caio Junior, going back to his playing days in Portugal and his native Brazil. And that is how we referred to him in the pages of The National while he coached in the UAE.

He died in a plane crash tonight, along with most of the rising Brazilian soccer side Chapecoense, short of the airport runway, near Medellin, Colombia.

The disaster touches many lives in many ways, but for those of us who came into contact with Caio Junior in the UAE, his untimely death comes as he seemed on the brink of making his mark as one of South America’s elite soccer coaches.

Caio Junior was one of that breed of managers, mostly South Americans and particularly Brazilians, who rarely turns down a job … and rarely last long in any of them, no matter the results.

In 2012, he took over the Abu Dhabi side Al Jazira in early March and led them to a President’s Cup championship, as well as the top of Group A in the Asian Champions League — something no UAE club had done, at the time.

He was not kept on, however, probably because Jazira lost to arch-rival Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli in the Champions League round of 16. The game ended 3-3 and the Saudis won in a shootout.

In 2014, he was back in the UAE, this time with the Dubai side Al Shabab, where he led the side for two seasons and 80 matches, turning in finishes of third and fifth with a club that lacked the spending power of the country’s bigger clubs, like Al Ahli, Al Ain and Jazira. Nonetheless, he was released in May.

Being fired never fazes coaches of Caio Junior’s breed; he quickly landed a job leading a rising club in the south of his own country, one that had been promoted three times in a decade and was headed for a top-10 finish in Brazil’s top flight.

More, Associacao Chapecoense de Futebol was flying to Medellin for the first leg of a finals tie with Colombian side Atletico Nacional in the Copa Sudamericana — the second-most important club competition in South America and the biggest moment in Chapecoense’s brief history.

Seventy-seven passengers and crew were aboard the charter flight, and six survived, including three players, two members of the crew and a sports journalist.

Fans in Chapeco, the southern Brazil home to the club, were awaiting another victory. The club’s players were about to become far more prominent than they had been a few months ago.

And Caio Junior may have been a victory away from moving out of the category of “journeyman” coach.

In 2012, Jazira was his 13th job in 11 years.

Chapecoense was his 18th in 14 years.

On the pitch, Caio Junior looked a bit like a mad scientist. Thick, unruly hair. Sport coat and white shirt. No tie. A 5 o’clock shadow on his chin.

He was strong at organizing teams, particularly in the attack, and whenever he felt as if he had accomplished something, he made sure the media knew about it.

Perhaps we cannot blame a man for a little self-promotion when he has been through so many clubs. At Jazira, after the President’s Cup victory, he said: “It’s a historical moment for Al Jazira. It adds extra value to our work, only two months of work. But I feel I have been here a long time.”

At Shabab, he pointed out that he had coached 80 matches in two seasons, winning 25 of 52 Arabian Gulf League matches, with 14 draws and only 13 defeats.

Yet, he was not retained, and back he went to Brazil after getting a break — a chance to lead Chapecoense. And he was about to make something of it.

It is strange to think that someone who was so vital just six months ago, standing in the coach’s box in Dubai, could be dead on a mountainside in Colombia. A few days short of an accomplishment that might have made him a household name in the continent of his birth.



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