There had been speculation last week that Bauza had been relieved of his duties following the underwhelming tour of Western Europe, but the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF) told Arab News last Wednesday that the Argentine had not lost his job. It proved a brief stay of execution as, a week later, the SAFF yesterday announced on its Twitter feed that Bauza has indeed been given his marching orders after just two official matches in charge, against Portugal and Bulgaria.
“The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) has terminated its contract with the manager and coach of the Saudi Arabia national team, Edgardo Bauza, on Wednesday,” read a statement. “This came after SAFF conducted a comprehensive technical evaluation of the last phase, during which Bauza was in charge of the national team and played five friendlies.”
Bauza oversaw wins against Jamaica and Latvia but presided over defeats to Ghana, Portugal and Bulgaria during his 69-day tenure.
Adel Izzat, president of the SAFF, explained that the decision to terminate Bauza’s contract was an upshot of “a thorough and comprehensive technical study of his performance and work, including the team’s two training camps and five friendlies.”
“The decision was made in the national team’s best interest, and is a reflection of our hopes for its upcoming participation,” he said.
The warning signs for Bauza were there when Turki Al-AlShaikh, the Chairman of the General Sport Authority, tweeted his dissatisfaction at the performances during the trip to Portugal, a training camp that yielded two defeats and just two goals in 270 minutes of football. “There is no coherence between players (no technical identity)... results are not good,” tweeted Al-AlShaikh. “Bauza is under the microscope.”
The feeling from the 12-day training get-together in Portugal was that the Spanish-speaking Bauza struggled to get his tactical messages across to his players and that the team looked particularly toothless in attack, especially against Portugal and Bulgaria, who are exactly the caliber of opposition Saudi Arabia are likely to be pitched against in next Friday’s draw for Russia 2018. Discipline was also something of a problem: Mansour Al-Harbi was sent off against Bulgaria while other players walked a disciplinary tightrope.
The SAAF clearly felt Bauza was, on reflection, not the right man to lead them at their fifth appearance at the World Cup finals and decided to act now to give the new man six months to prepare the team. They did something similar in 2006 when Gabriel Calderon, another Argentine, was fired in the lead-up to the World Cup in Germany.
This latest decision leaves the Federation searching for their fifth manager in as many years and the 20th in the past 18. There are, however, likely to be no shortage of applicants for the position, and the SAFF hinted yesterday that a replacement has already been lined up. Saudi Arabian legend Sami Al-Jaber and Al-Hilal coach Ramon Diaz have been strongly linked to succeed Bauza.
“SAFF announced that it is currently working on concluding a contract with a replacement coach, who will meet SAFF’s aspirations for the current phase, during which the national team is preparing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia,” added the statement.