No coaches spared in Mideast quest for success

BANGKOK (Reuters) - When lifestyles are lavish and money is no object, jobs in the Middle East have proved irresistible to foreign soccer coaches.

Iraq's soccer coach Egil Olsen watches his players during their opening 2010 World Cup qualifier against Pakistan in Lahore in this October 22, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Tariq Saeed/Files

The Gulf game, however, can be a ruthless coaching merry-go-round where patience is thin and no name is too big to be spared the axe.

Just this week, Asian champions Iraq sprang a surprise when they gave Egil Olsen the boot after only three games in charge, none of which were defeats.

Iraqi soccer chiefs said the Norwegian had refused to train the team in the war-torn country, so it was time for him to go.

To add to the misery, Olsen -- a man with a 100 percent record of taking teams to the World Cup finals -- discovered his fate only when he read the morning newspapers.

“I expect it’s true but no one told me,” the 65-year-old told Reuters from his home in Norway. “I think I’m sacked.”

The oil-rich Sheiks who run the Gulf game are as famous for their impatience with foreign coaches as they are for their deep pockets.

In pursuit of places at the 2010 World Cup, they have splashed their cash for big-name bosses but shown no mercy if not instantly impressed.


Helio dos Anjos is the latest Brazilian to succumb to the lure of the loot and has been told he will become Saudi Arabia’s 18th coaching casualty since 1994 if he fails to take them to the 2010 finals in South Africa.

World Cup-winning Italian Antonio Cabrini thought he had proved his worth when, against all odds, he steered part-timers Syria into Asia’s main qualifying rounds for the tournament.

However, a few weeks later, Cabrini was sent packing when Syrian soccer bosses told him the sponsors would not pay his salary.

Shortly after, Oman dispensed with Argentine Gabriel Calderon -- “in good spirits,” the federation said -- and wasted no time filling his shoes.

After being told he was surplus to requirements, Calderon was hurriedly ushered away as reporters began arriving for a news conference to announce his replacement, Uruguayan Julio Cesar Ribas.

Calderon took it very well, considering.

“There are no ill feelings,” said the 1990 World Cup finalist. “It was a healthy handshake, I wish them well.”


Efforts by Iran to recruit Spanish coach Javier Clemente broke down earlier this month over his insistence that he should be allowed to live in Spain and travel to Iran only to prepare the team for matches.

The 57-year-old former Spain and Serbia coach could still end up coaching the regional giants, though, after Iranian state television reported on Wednesday that he had changed his mind and agreed to the football federation’s condition that he live in the country.

A few have stayed the course in the region, such as current Singapore coach Radojko Avramovic.

The no-nonsense Serb lasted almost a decade in Kuwait and Oman. He says the big salaries offered in the Middle East make up for the lack of job security and damaged reputations.

“They want results overnight and they’re willing to pay for them,” Avramovic told Reuters. “And when they’re done, they’ll pay to get rid of you.”

The United Arab Emirates tops the charts for the most domestic coaching casualties this season, having given nine foreign bosses the push -- including seven in as many weeks.

The latest victim, Dutchman Jo Bonfrere, was given only three months by Al Wahda, his closing comments all too familiar in a region where hiring and firing is so common.

“I was surprised that my task has finished so very fast,” a dejected Bonfrere said on Monday. “I had plans.”

Editing by Clare Fallon