The troubled tour that ended Edgardo Bauza’s reign as Saudi Arabia's head coach

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Updated 24 November 2017
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The troubled tour that ended Edgardo Bauza’s reign as Saudi Arabia's head coach

LONDON: As the only English-language journalist at this month’s ill-fated World Cup preparation camp in Portugal, I was able to witness firsthand Edgardo Bauza’s dying days as coach of Saudi Arabia. It is difficult to say the signs were there given the camp was supposed to essentially be a first chance to implement some of his ideas and philosophies. There were clues, however, that the two parties were not a perfect match.
In an industry where patience is as rare, the Argentine paid the price for lackluster results in matches where results were meant to be irrelevant. Defeats to Portugal and Bulgaria were not ideal, but he was unruffled. These were friendlies and the 59-year-old had decided to experiment with formations and personnel. He told me repeatedly he had “eight months to prepare,” adding “we are calm; we have time.”
He was wrong. The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) were unconvinced. There are bottles of laban that have lasted longer than Bauza’s 69-day reign and he will surely feel hard done by, yet like a man who has smoked all his life being told he has cancer, while Bauza may have been surprised, he cannot have been shocked.
Since the Green Falcons finished bottom of their group at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the national team has gone through 12 coaches in 11 years. In September, Bert van Marwijk led the Gulf side to a first World Cup in more than a decade, yet celebrated not by signing a new contract, but rather by seeing his deal expire without extension.
Bauza, once named the third-best coach in the world but more recently labelled a failure with Argentina, was not the first choice and when he was offered the job, he had little say given his employer, the UAE FA, had already struck a deal with SAFF. In hindsight, it appeared a marriage of convenience rather than suitability.
The 59-year-old told me in Portugal his switch to Riyadh eight weeks earlier was practically taken out of his hands. In what proved to be his final interview with an English-language publication, he explained: “It was not a difficult decision. The president of SAFF called the president of the UAE FA because they no longer had a coach.They made an agreement in which I could work and then they called me on the phone and I was asked if I agreed to work in Saudi Arabia.”
Bauza did not seem to be particularly well informed of goings-on behind closed doors. He was unaware that Oliver Kahn had been tasked to train the national team’s shot-stoppers and appeared oblivious to a SAFF proposal to send the country’s best players to Europe this winter on loan. He appeared content, but struggled with an apparent lack of professionalism, grimacing at the mention of his players visiting McDonalds and getting angry when our interview was interrupted by a SAFF delegate asking if he wanted his laundry washed.
He highlighted the shallow depth of the pool of players he had to select from, the questionable quality of the Saudi Pro League and his lack of a game-changer, such as Lionel Messi or Omar Abdulrahman. He also confirmed his family remained in Dubai, where he continued to visit most weeks. Crucially, despite a spell with Al-Nassr in 2009, he also relied entirely on a translator to communicate with his players.
The language problem was laid bare on the sidelines of his team’s 1-0 defeat to a poor Bulgaria side as he repeatedly struggled to convey his tactical ideas. He urged his wingers to attack the opposition full-backs only to see them turn and pass backwards. He spun on his size 13s and stared — furious and frustrated — at his bench for assistance and was met only with silence and blank stares.
Eight days later, the silence was broken: Bauza was gone. The news made me think of his final words as he passed me on the way out of the Estádio do Fontelo when I asked him about future friendlies. “There is a long way to go, but we have plenty time,” he said. “Ask me again in Moscow.”
His flight to Russia for next week’s World Cup draw has since been canceled.
 


Lewis Hamilton wins German GP as rival Sebastian Vettel crashes late on

Updated 31 min 54 sec ago
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Lewis Hamilton wins German GP as rival Sebastian Vettel crashes late on

HOCKENHEIM: Lewis Hamilton regained the championship lead in unexpected and dramatic fashion on Sunday, winning the German Grand Prix after Sebastian Vettel crashed while leading near the end.

Heavy rain played havoc late on at the Hockenheimring as Vettel misjudged a basic entry into a turn and slid over the gravel into the barriers with 15 laps to go.

The four-time Formula One champion started from pole position and seemed in control. He was livid with himself, kicking the gravel in frustration as he stepped out his car.

His mishap opened the door wide open for Hamilton.

The British driver was fourth at the time of the crash, having started from 14th on the grid because of a hydraulic problem in qualifying.

“It’s obviously very difficult from that position and highly unlikely but you’ve got to believe,” Hamilton said. “I did a long prayer before the race. I wanted to stay collected, stay calm. The team did such a great job today. I kept believing and it happened so I manifested my dream today. A big, big thanks to God.

“Conditions were perfect for business time. When it rained, I knew I would have a good position.

“You never knew what was going to happen after the safety car. I hope this solidifies their belief in me, and I hope this solidified my belief in them. For those who didn’t know me before, now you do.”

Valtteri Bottas started and finished second on a great day for Mercedes, with Kimi Raikkonen taking third on a bad one for Ferrari.

Vettel’s incident led to a safety car coming out for several laps.

When the race resumed, with about 10 laps left, Bottas almost overtook Hamilton.

That did not go down well at a nervy Mercedes. Shortly after, Bottas was firmly told on team radio to “hold position” and not challenge Hamilton, who secured his fourth win of the season and 66th overall.

“As a driver a win is what we are after, when Seb went off I think there was a good chance,” Bottas said. “Taking positives, as a team it is a perfect result for us. We had a bit of a battle lap one after the safety car. I didn’t get past and I got told to minimize the risk but I understand. I think we have certain rules but it wasn’t clear enough. It was a moment in the race where I needed to stop.”

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff justified the team orders afterwards.

“It’s two things,” he said. “We didn’t have the quickest car and we need to prepare for the next races. It was still raining at the time and the fight was so intense. With the bad luck we had, we didn’t want to take chances.”

Raikkonen finished third after also having to comply with team orders, move over and let Ferrari teammate Vettel through. “I think we have certain rules but it wasn’t clear enough,” he said. “It was a moment in the race where I needed to stop.”

Ferrari were holding a one-two for a lot of the race, but had to settle for a third and a DNF. Rain caused havoc toward the end and provided a real test of the drivers’ mettle and skill.

“In the past, it’s been difficult in the rain and I was surprised with how the grip reacted,” said Raikkonen. “It didn’t really change an awful lot in the end. It was a tricky race. I had a problem with one of the lappers, the Sauber. It was a tricky race but we try next time.”