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Monday, February 7, 2011

Qatar Woes Barcelona’s Guardiola as Coach

Qatar may be hoping to replace sacked national soccer coach Bruno Metsu with FC Barcelona’s Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola, according to unconfirmed reports that suggest the Qatar Football Federation is offering him €20 million a year.

The rumours, following Metsu’s sacking after his team failed to reach the semi-finals in last month’s Asian Cup in Qatar, are fuelled by Guardiola’s support for Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup and his history as a player for the tiny Gulf state’s Al Ahly soccer team. Qatar in December agreed to sponsor FC Barcelona to the tune of $200 million.

Qatar ruler Skeikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Bin Ahmad al-Thani is believed to want Guardiola help his national team adopt FC Barcelona’s winning soccer strategy. Qatar ranks 105 on FIFA’s list of national soccer teams.

There was no indication whether Guardiola has responded to the reported Qatari offer.

Were Guardiola to accept a Qatari approach, he would be leaving Barcelona at the very moment that the Spanish team has broken Real Madrid’s 40-year record by winning 16 consecutive La Liga matches. Guardiola moreover would be moving to a part of the world where job security is at a premium.

In firing Metsu, Qatar reaffirmed the Middle East’s tendency to judge coaches on the principle of ‘you are as good as your team’s last victory.’ Admittedly, Metsu who was appointed in 2008, 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.

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.

Qatar has fared better than many Middle Eastern governments by ensuring that its population has reaped the benefits of the Gulf state’s wealth in gas with one of the world’s highest incomes per capita of the population as well as state-of-the art services such as health care and education. Qatar is also investing heavily in grooming the next generation of soccer stars.

But when it comes to the immediate performance of its national team, Qatar like other Middle Eastern countries adopts a short-term results-oriented approach 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.

The region’s preference for politics at the expense of vision is likely to be further 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.

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