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James Corbett, Inside World Football


Friday, February 4, 2011

Qatar Fires Coach in Politically Motivated Move

Qatar has fired its charismatic French football coach Bruno Metsu because of the failure of its national team to progress to the semi-finals in the Asian Cup, signalling that like others in the Middle East, the Gulf state’s approach to soccer is guided by politics rather than patience and long-term vision.

Metsu, whose contract legally expires in 2014, was fired despite having led the Qatari national team to its best performance ever in an international tournament. Its performance proved that the tiny desert state can hold its own on the pitch. Contrary to expectations, Qatar, which in December won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup, made it to the quarterfinals, narrowly being knocked out of the tournament by a 3:2 defeat by Japan.

Metsu was let go despite praise from Qatar Football Association (QFA) President Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al Thani immediately after the match, which Qatar lost only late in the game.

The match improved Qatar’s FIFA ranking from number 114 to number 90 on the list of soccer-playing nations.

"We wanted to show Asia and the world that we have a good team and we succeeded in that. I am happy with the performance of the entire team and the coach. They gave their best," Al Thani, a member of Qatar’s ruling family, said.

In a reversal of his position, Al Thani announced on Thursday Metsu’s firing, saying that "we thank him for his efforts. But we feel this is a time to move on so we mutually agreed to end the contract.”

Qatar is expected to hire a big-name coach to replace Metsu in the coming week.

In firing Metsu, Qatar reaffirmed a regional principle judging coaches on the principle of ‘you are as good as your team’s last victory.’ Appointed in 2008, Metsu lasted in his job longer than many coaches in the Middle East.

In 2004, Qatar fired Phillipe Troussier during the Asian Cup in China. Saudi Arabia fired two coaches during last month’s Asian Cup in Qatar.

Authoritarian Middle Eastern governments keep tight political control of soccer because it offers in many countries a rare release valve for pent-up frustration and anger. Soccer serves as a barometer for the stock of Arab regimes who as demonstrated by mass demonstrations in Egypt seeking to oust President Hosni Mubarak and last month’s toppling of Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali often enjoy little credibility at home.


As a result, Middle Eastern countries adopt a short-term results-oriented approach towards soccer that undermines the ability of national teams to develop a successful style of their own and produces a degree of pressure and uncertainty among coaches and players that mitigates towards failure. No Middle Eastern advanced beyond the quarterfinals in this year’s Asian Cup.

The region’s preference for politics at the expense of vision is likely to be reconfirmed in the coming months as other loosing Asia Cup Arab teams decide the fate of their coaches. Slovenian coach Srecko Katanec of the national team of the UAE, which was a disappointment in Doha, is likely to be back on the job market by June when his contract is up for renewal.

“Football is a progression, you reap what you sow and sometimes patience is key,” says soccer writer Duane Fonseca says. “When the (Asia Cup) final is played out on January 29, the side that lifts the trophy will demonstrate just that!”

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