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From Bora to Caio, Wandering Soccer Coaches I Have Known

July 29th, 2017 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Arabian Gulf League, Football, soccer, UAE

If it sometimes seems as if American sports tend to cycle through the same few dozen coaches … well, it’s pretty much the case. How else to explain Larry Brown, Buck Showalter, Marty Schottenheimer, et al?

But international soccer coaches take it to a whole ‘nother level.

Some of these guys have coached at 10, 15, 20 clubs. And I am not talking about three or four men … it’s more like 30 or 40 or 50 who have done that.

I was reminded of this topic, which fascinates me, by a recent BBC production done by Mani Djazmi, a British-Iranian specialist in soccer who happens to be blind.

(I was interviewed by Mani back in 2011, when the UAE club Al Wasl hired Diego Maradona. My biggest radio moment.)

His latest show has three well-traveled soccer coaches in the studio, one on the phone and yet another from a previous interview.

Being able and willing to coach all over the world … not everyone can do it. It requires an skill at blending in when working in an alien culture, as well as as adventurous side that allows coaches — by nature control freaks — to roll with the weirdnesses of coaching in Asia or Africa or Central America or the Middle East … or just about anywhere these days.

Have a listen.

This reminds me of a few of my favorites when I was in Abu Dhabi or elsewhere. These all are guys I have met.

Bora Milutinovic. The Serb, soon to turn 73, was the first foreign manager I met. He is the only man to coach five different nations in the World Cup, and the only one who got four of them out of the group stage. He led the U.S. national team in the long run-up to the 1994 U.S. World Cup. He already had done stints with Mexico and Costa Rica, and would later lead Mexico (again), Nigeria, China, Honduras, Jamaica and Iraq. In Bora’s world, everyone was “my friend!” (he wasn’t good with names) … and he may not have been far wrong.

Josef Hickersberger, Austria. It can be hard to be dignified when you coach a new team every season or two, but Hickersberger managed it. He led the Austria national team twice, but most of his movement came in the Gulf. Bahrain’s national team twice, Al Wahda three times, Al Wasl, Al Shaab, Al Ittihad of Qatar. In his spare time he is a “golf tourist” who wants to play all the great courses of the world. At age 68 he may finally be done trying to motivate young guys from all over the world. My personal favorite among all coaches.

Quique Sanchez Flores, Spain. A carefully rumpled little guy who seems to class-up any room he enters. I saw him coaching at the UAE’s Al Ahli. Unlike some of the really busy movers, his numbers are not enormous but they include some serious clubs in big leagues. To wit: Getafe, Valencia, Benfica, Atletico Madrid, Al Ahli, Al Ain, Watford and Espanyol.

Jorvan Vieira, Brazil. All these guys have pretty high opinions of themselves; if they did not, they would not be able to deal with getting fired so often. Vieira was impressed with Vieira, even if he was coaching a small UAE club (Kalba) when I met him, one of his 18 jobs (by my count) over 25 years. However, he does have one astonishing triumph on his resume: The Asian Cup, the continent’s once-every-four-years championship, which he won with war-torn Iraq in 2007 in a huge upset.

Caio Junior, Brazil. I met him during his cameo leading Al Jazira of Abu Dhabi for a few months in 2012. From 2002 to 2016 he managed 20 teams, starting with 10 teams in Brazil, then one in Japan, and then a bit of back-and-forth between Brazil and the Gulf … before his biggest accomplishment, getting Brazilian upstarts Chapecoense to the final of the Copa Sudamericana — the second-biggest club competition in South America. However, he died at 51, when LaMia Flight 2933, carrying the Chapecoense club to meet Atletico Nacional of Colombia, crashed short of the runway, killing 71 of 77 people on board.

Caio Junior’s death perhaps is an extreme example of the risks that coaches take when they travel the world and coach in situations that might be a bit dicey. But a certain small fraction of them seem to love the travel and the adventure and dealing with different strange situations every year or so.

After qualifying for the final, Caio Junior reportedly said: “If I died tomorrow I’d die a happy man.”

These guys … they may well think things like that.



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