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Afcon 2017: Fiery Jose Antonio Camacho brings Real Madrid pedigree to Gabon role

Camacho and Gabon – it looks an unlikely marriage, except if you recall one of the candid, sometimes outspoken Camacho’s pithier phrases from early in his coaching career. “Pressure and I are like husband and wife,” he once said.
Jose Antonio Camacho reacts during a match as manager of China in 2011. Mohammed Dabbous / Reuters file
Jose Antonio Camacho reacts during a match as manager of China in 2011. Mohammed Dabbous / Reuters file

Jose Antonio Camacho may forever have to live with the entries on his long and varied managerial career that suggest the bigger the job, the shorter the stay.

Because of Camacho’s distinguished playing career with Real Madrid, his name raises a loud cheer whenever he attends the Bernabeu stadium. But his two stints as Madrid manager passed in the blinking of an eye.

First time around, he lasted 22 days, and no competitive matches. Returning six years later, under a different presidency, he quit after six games.

Camacho, now 61 and a dozen years away from his last go on the ejector seat of Madrid’s dugout, has always been a fiery and principled sort.

Less than two weeks before he was scheduled to guide Gabon into their opening match of an Africa Cup of Nations they are hosting from this weekend, a routine news conference to outline his plans was postponed because of tense stand-off between the Spaniard and the Gabonese Football Federation.

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It was not unreasonable then to suppose his latest gig was about to be abbreviated almost as suddenly as his Madrid spells. It turned out the issues – about his right to bring in an extensive support staff of his choosing – chimed closely with arguments he had with Madrid’s executives back in the late 1990s.

Negotiations produced peace this time. And Camacho remains entrusted with the great expectations of a Gabon with scant international pedigree but a number of factors in their favour as they attempt to give their compatriots something to smile about at an unstable time politically in the West African country.

Camacho and Gabon – it looks an unlikely marriage, except if you recall one of the candid, sometimes outspoken Camacho’s pithier phrases from early in his coaching career. “Pressure and I are like husband and wife,” he once said.

Nobody who watched his combative football as a full-back who played more than 400 times for Madrid in the 70s and 80s, and over 80 times for Spain, would doubt that. Camacho is a fighter.

He took up the Gabon position only last month, succeeding the Portuguese Jorge Costa. He has not coached an African team before and will be the first Spanish manager at the Afcon.

But he is worldly.

Camacho has held two senior international posts, and he took Spain to the European championships in 2000 and the 2002 World Cup. He also managed China. Add to that a wealth of experience in Iberia, where most of his jobs lasted a good deal longer than his stints at Madrid and where he won a Portuguese Cup with Benfica.

An admired motivator of men, his tactical instincts are sometimes shrewder than he is given credit for, and he does not bow to reputations. A contributing factor in his quitting Madrid a second time was the furore from his paymasters when he dropped David Beckham from the starting line-up.

He has another limelight-drawing superstar in his Gabon squad – Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was the African Footballer of the Year for 2015.

Camacho’s planning for the coming weeks will be shaped around how best to exploit Aubameyeng’s electric pace, although the coach is keen to remind that “we have a good team apart from ‘Auba’”.

Gabon may be upstarts in the established order of African powers – their most significant Afcon achievement is the second-round finish they achieved as co-hosts in 2012.

But there is a sturdy spine to the side, from veteran goalkeeper Didier Ovono, through Sunderland’s holding midfielder Didier Ndong to Aubameyang. The Juventus midfielder Mario Lemina has a fire to him that should appeal to Camacho, too, as long as Lemina keeps his temper in check.

Playing in front of partisan crowds should help. Camacho certainly knows all about the effect home advantage can have.

He still seethes about the way his Spain fell out of the World Cup in South Korea, beaten on penalties by the home team after 120 minutes, in the quarter-finals. He felt key refereeing decisions had gone against his side.

Now back on the touchline at a major international tournament for the first time since then, he targets a place in at least the last four.

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Updated: January 10, 2017 04:00 AM

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