Coaches: The long and short of it!
AJU GEORGE CHRIS / Doha Stadium Plus
November 14 - Good coaches, given ample time sans interferences, build champion teams nonpareil. Just ask Alex Ferguson.
The Scot, at the helm of English Premier League side Manchester United for the last 26 years, has made them one of the most successful and recognised football clubs in the world.
At the other end of the spectrum, especially in Qatar, there are part-time, short-term coaches, recruited mainly on a tournament-to-tournament basis. While such experiments sometimes succeed, it mostly backfires.
The recent moves of El Jaish, hosts of the ongoing 15th Asian Clubs’ League Championship, brought the issue sharply into focus. After back-to-back losses in the competition’s opening round, they replaced Slovenian Borut Macek — drafted in just for the event — with Moroccan Mohammad Ben Rajeh.
Chopping and changing was nothing new to the team. In September, they competed in the IHF Super Globe in Doha under Croat Ivica Obrvan, who moved in from native club RK Zagreb. But their poor fifth-place finish may have resulted in his dismissal, which came three days before the start of the continental event.
Macek, who is also the Qatar national team coach, appeared a good replacement as he had helped Jaish to last season’s Emir’s Cup triumph. But he did not even get time for a proper look-in and was axed after just two matches.
Qatar Handball Association (QHA) President Ahmed Mohammed Abdulrab Al Shaabi criticised the club’s merry-go-round attitude with coaches.
“When a club hosts a tournament, the expectations are much higher and they should be extra careful not to destabilise its winning combination,” said Al Shaabi.
“Jaish introduced some new players just before the competition and it only unbalanced the team.
“There’s only so much a coach can do. In their first game, against the UAE’s Al Ahli, the players committed 23 technical fouls. How can you blame the coach for it? The blame should rest with the entire team management. Regardless of how they fared later, changing Macek mid-tournament wasn’t a wise move,” said the top official.
It is tough for a coach to change his players’ style in a short time.
Iranian side Thamen Alhujaj topped the group in the first round, but failed to progress past the second.
Their temporary Spanish coach Rafael Guijosa, who won bronze medals at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Olympic Games as a player, feels makeshift arrangements will not produce desired results.
“My players had a tough time adjusting with me and vice-versa,” Guijosa said.
“I took charge just two weeks prior to the tournament and made subtle changes to get the best out of them. It was risky. We topped Group C in the first round, but luck had a major role to play. It wasn’t entirely a result of my coaching style or the players’ proficiency,” added Guijosa, who was also the IHF’s ’99 Player of the Year.
Al Rayyan, Qatar’s other representative at the continental event, kept their trust in Algerian Jamal Aqab. He was the QHA’s best coach last season after helping them to the Qatar League, Heir Apparent’s Cup and GCC Championship titles.
They were thoroughly impressive as they progressed to the semifinal of the Asian tournament last week.
Aqab acknowledged stability was the most important word in the team’s lexicon.
“I’ve had more than a year to fine-tune the team’s strategies. It came in handy at the Asian event. By now, I know the most effective formations as well as what to do when key players are unavailable. I’m thankful to the team management for trusting in my judgements,” he said.
Veteran Tunisian coach Riida Bejaoui, who has guided Qatar’s various age-group teams to the World Championships, also felt continuity was the secret to Rayyan’s success.
“They retained the entire squad, coach and manager Ahmad Butti from last season. That was why they fared well despite missing Croat professional Marco Bagaric. Other teams should learn from their example, give coaches more time and stop making so many unnecessary changes,” Bejaoui said.
Al Shaabi too was vocal in his support for longer stints for coaches.
“Coaches should be given at least five-year terms at the helm, especially in handball. That much time is required to understand and build a team into a cohesive unit. Constant change is thoroughly unprofessional. It’s time Qatari clubs became more far-sighted,” he said.
China’s Jiangsu substantiate the official’s view. The side, playing in their first major Asian event, took everyone by surprise as they defeated fancied clubs like Al Ahli (Bahrain) and Al Arabi (Kuwait). And for that, they have Croat coach Zvonarek Nenad, who has been in charge since ’07, to thank.
“Not many gave us a chance before coming to Doha. But with this single tournament, we changed the continent’s perception about the Chinese game. My five-year stint with them has helped a lot.
“When coaches are changed arbitrarily, nobody cares about how players feel. It’s very detrimental to their morale. Jiangsu’s team management should be lauded as they’re in it for the long haul, irrespective of minor setbacks. The results are there for everyone to see,” he said.
WHAT THEY SAID
“Coaches should be given at least five-year terms at the helm. That much time is required to understand and build a team into a cohesive unit. Constant change is thoroughly unprofessional. It’s time Qatari clubs became more far-sighted.
Ahmed Mohammed Abdulrab Al Shaabi,
President, Qatar Handball Association.
“I’ve had more than a year to fine-tune the team’s strategies. By now, I know the most effective formations as well as what to do when key players are unavailable. I’m thankful to the team management for trusting in me.
Jamal Aqab, Al Rayyan coach.
“When coaches are changed arbitrarily, nobody cares about how players feel. It’s very detrimental to their morale. I’ve completed five years with Jiangsu and the results are there for everyone to see.
Zvonarek Nenad, Jiangsu coach.
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