x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Calm man manager Bruno Metsu may be apt for Al Wasl

The former is a players' delight should he get the job, writes John McAuley.

Bruno Metsu led UAE to the Gulf Cup title in Abu Dhabi in 2007.
Bruno Metsu led UAE to the Gulf Cup title in Abu Dhabi in 2007.

It was October 3, 2003. The night was balmy, yet in the bowels of the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium the temperature was soaring.

Al Ain, the UAE champions then as they are now, were preparing to take on Thailand's BEC Thero Sasana in the first leg of the Asian Champions League final. The tension in the home dressing room was palpable, yet one man remained cool.

"We knew from the expression on his face that everything was fine, that the game would go only in our favour. He brings confidence," said Fahad Ali, the former captain, of his coach, Bruno Metsu.

Al Ain, emboldened by their manager, would win the match 2-0, before defending defiantly in the return leg to seal a 2-1 aggregate victory. The club became the UAE's first continental champions, and Metsu had masterminded their greatest achievement.

"We had prepared for everything during the week in training, and because of Bruno we knew the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents," Ali said.

"But the minutes before the game all you could see from him was belief that we were going to win. He was calm, without any nerves. His attitude was always very stable before big games."

Such stability will be key should Metsu be charged this week, as is expected, with reviving the fortunes of Al Wasl following 14 madcap months under Diego Maradona.

The Argentine was dismissed last Tuesday, with Mohammed bin Dukhan, the vice chairman, naming only Metsu as one of the "four or five" candidates for the job.

Club sources have since confirmed the Frenchman is "90 per cent" certain to get the nod. His Wikipedia page, to be treated with suspicion, already proclaims him Wasl's new manager.

Metsu undoubtedly represents an attractive proposition. Having coached an underrated Senegal side to the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup, he then sustained Al Ain's domestic dominance with successive titles from 2003. Prolific periods in Saudi Arabia, and particularly Qatar, followed.

Those assignments were punctuated by 27 months in charge of the UAE national team - almost double the average amount of time afforded to his 26 predecessors - in which Metsu brought unprecedented success in winning the 2007 Gulf Cup.

Just like with Senegal, conquerors of the world champions France, in 2002, Metsu had formed a side greater than the sum of its constituent parts. While at Wasl Maradona routinely complained about the lack of resources at his disposal, Metsu has consistently proved adept at working wonders.

The team ethic is integral to that success. "Bruno is a very good coach," said Ismail Matar, scorer of the winning goal in the Gulf Cup final against Oman, who under Metsu's tutelage became the UAE's pre-eminent player.

"He brings special things that other coaches cannot. He has the support of the players on the pitch, and off it, and that is important."

Ali, part of Metsu's administrative team with the Falcons, witnessed firsthand the 58 year old's supreme man management.

"One of his strongest attributes is that he knows how to communicate with his players," Ali said. "And being close to the players allows him to implement his ideas. In this way Bruno is very intelligent.

"He knows the area and understands the mentality of the players; how to be close to them and how to motivate them to achieve his goals.

"There are a lot of coaches who come to the UAE - big names with big reputations - but they don't know how to help players psychologically as well as technically. Yet Bruno, when it comes to this aspect, is one of the best coaches to have managed in the Emirates."

Metsu's dishevelled appearance may hint at a casual composition, but under those familiar flowing locks lies an astute managerial mind.

"The most important thing for me is the objective," he said. "These days everybody has the same resources with which to prepare a team from a tactical and physical standpoint. The difference is in the psychological side of things, the way you approach a match."

Should Metsu accept Wasl's advances, his ability to foster friendships at boardroom level will require just as much finessing. Where Maradona endured a fractious relationship with his employers, often publicly criticising their transfer policy, Metsu, in the majority, promotes diplomacy.

"What we remember is the good friendship we had with him," said Mohammed Khalfan Al Rumaithi, president of the UAE Football Association when Metsu was in charge of the national team. "We never had any problems."

"Metsu has had a very good relationship with all the management he worked under," said Kefah Al Kaabi, a leading UAE football analyst who has followed Metsu's career with interest.

"He's very good at dealing with the board, also because they realise he is one of the best technical coaches in the region and that he has the ability to deal with players as friends. He understands them so they gave him whatever he asked from them."

Metsu is not without his flaws, however. Al Kaabi warns of his tendency to allow players too much freedom, revealing there were incidents with the national team when they would "walk all over him".

There was the messy conclusion to his spell at Al Ain, too, in which he had to pay the club, with Al Rumaithi as chief executive, a fine for breach of contract.

And, no matter how calm he was before that Asian Champions League final, the beautiful game can, as it regularly did with Maradona, consume him. "I don't like to lose," Metsu has said. "I am a passionate person, I follow my heart."

When asked by a Korean journalist at the 2002 World Cup what his interests outside football were, Metsu replied tersely "table football".

His departure from the UAE national team was not an agreeable one, either. With their 2010 World Cup hopes hanging in the balance - the UAE had lost successive home games to North Korea and Saudi Arabia - Metsu walked out on the job, lambasting his side for having "no identity".

"I have always defended them, but I saw most of them play without a desire to win," he said at his final news conference. "Most of them lacked fighting spirit. Tell me why should the coaches shoulder the responsibility of each defeat? The players should also learn from their mistakes and the fans have a right to know why the team lost."

Metsu, something of a regional specialist, obviously shares a special affinity with the UAE. Before the Gulf Cup campaign in 2007, he said: "I return to France from time to time to see my family and friends, but I soon miss Dubai. I've lived in this region for five years and I think the people have adopted me. It's important to feel loved; it motivates you to take on new challenges."

If Wasl choose to provide Metsu with his latest challenge, they could not have appointed a man much further removed from his predecessor. Cool, compatible and, in the taxing environs of UAE football, generally compliant.

The only regret is he will not be anywhere near as compelling. Although, after the tumultuous term of Maradona, perhaps that is exactly what Wasl need.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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