Here we are on Day 2 of My Favorite Soccer Coaches Roundup, which includes a certain Spanish player and coach who grew up wanting to be a sports writer. But more about that in a bit.
I have been a fan of Quique Sanchez Flores from the moment he was named as coach of the Al Ahli club in Dubai.
He looked cool, in that studiously “informal” Spanish/Madrileno way. One shirt tail hanging over his jeans. Old sneakers. A sweater worn over a collared shirt, not quite lined up.
And if anyone in the Arabian Gulf League had the right to cultivate cool, it was him — former Valencia and Real Madrid right back, former Atletico Madrid coach who won the Europa League and the Uefa Super Cup in 2010. Arguably, the most-qualified coach in the history of the UAE.
This season, Quique (pronounced KEY-kay), a nickname for “Enrique”, took charge of Watford, one of the three English clubs promoted into the Premier League, and then he went out and secured their place in the top division.
Watford finished 13th, with 45 points, and were never at real risk of relegation.
But that did not keep Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family of Italy, from deciding this week that they and Quique had differing visions for the club — meaning he will not be back for a second season leading the club.
Which is crazy.
We could start by asking, “Who does Watford think they are?”
The answer to that is … a medium-sized club just a bit too far outside London for capital-city attention … in a country with half a dozen really, really big clubs.
Their biggest fan is Elton John, who once ran the team. No, really. Their second-biggest fan is my former National newspaper colleague Graham Caygill, who may have bankrupted himself with all his trips from Abu Dhabi to England to see Watford play this season.
Watford ought to be happy that Quique led them to the best performance by a promoted side this season — and some of their fans are. Bournemouth is behind them in the final table, and Norwich is being relegated.
Watford also reached the semifinals of the FA Cup, which is no mean achievement, even if the club looked flat in a final-four loss to Crystal Palace.
But, under Quique, they also had a 3-0 victory over Liverpool in the league, and defeated Newcastle, Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and two-time-defending-champion Arsenal, away, in the FA Cup, which is pretty good for a club in the top flight for the first time in since 2006-07 — when Watford failed to stay up. Just as it had failed in a one-season cameo in 1999-2000.
Quique was, of course, gracious.
Check the embedded video here, and this is Quique doing what he does. Nothing nasty to say about the tinkerers who essentially fired him — their next coach will be their seventh since they took over the club in the summer of 2012.
He talks about how great the players were, how much he loved the fans. He’s just a class act, and he probably actually meant what he said.
Just as he appreciated his teams at Ahli and Al Ain, during his two-plus seasons in the UAE’s Arabian Gulf League, where he won three cup titles.
He certainly will get another job. Maybe not in the Premier League, which may be over its quota of Latin coaches, but in the Gulf, or perhaps in Italy or his native Spain.
Three more things to like about Quique …
–He comes from an accomplished family. His aunt is Lola Flores, a famous flamenco singer. His father, Isidro, also a right back, played soccer professionally, including a stint at Real Madrid. And his godfather is Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano.
–He honestly believes he speaks English, and he almost does …
–He aspired to be a sports writer, in his youth. Then soccer got in the way. So sad. But after his playing career ended and before his coaching career got under way, he wrote for several newspapers in Spain.
He treats journalists with respect, which doesn’t happen often in the Premier League coach/British journo dynamic.