x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Jazira assistant coach Hugo Broos has always been in demand

Former Belgium centre-back was expecting a phone call from Genk asking him to replace Franky Vercauteren, but the in-coming Al Jazira manager rang first.

Hugo Broos, the Al Jazira assistant coach, has arguably one of the most decorated footvball CVs of all the imports to the UAE Pro League.
Hugo Broos, the Al Jazira assistant coach, has arguably one of the most decorated footvball CVs of all the imports to the UAE Pro League.

Hugo Broos was at his home just outside of Brussels when he received a telephone call from a journalist friend telling him that he was soon to be offered the manager's job at Racing Genk.

This was in July and, to the astonishment of the Belgian football public, Franky Vercauteren, the man who had just led that team to the league title, had left and was heading to a club most of them had never heard, Al Jazira in the Pro League.

Broos, who had previously spent three years at the club as head coach, said could not quite believe the news but his friend said and the word was that Genk wanted him to take over.

So he waited for his telephone to ring again with the job offer.

"If Genk had asked me, I would have said yes. But they had no time to offer me the job. The first call was from Franky and he asked me if I fancied going with him, and here I am," said Broos with a smile.

But then Broos has always been a man in demand.

Of all the football personalities who have arrived on these shores over the past four years of full-time professionalism, few have been able to boast a CV as full of trophies both as player and a coach.

As a "not so bad" centre-half, he was the bedrock of a hugely successful Anderlecht team in Belgium in the 1970s and early 1980s

Apart from three league titles and four Belgian Cups, Broos appeared in four European finals, won the Cup Winners Cup in 1976 and 1978, lost the other final in between those successes, and won a Uefa Cup in 1983 in what turned out to be his last game for the club.

He then joined Belgium football's other powerhouse, Club Brugge, where he added another league and cup win to his collection.

"I played in four European finals, three in a row, and that is only a dream for a Belgium club now. It is almost unreachable for them because of the way football is with regards to money," he said.

"So when I look back today, I see myself as being fortunate to have played in the time that I did. I have no complaints."

Broos was a centre-half who was as tough on the pitch as he was mild-mannered off it.

"I hated playing against him, and loved playing with him," Eric Gerets, the Morocco manager, who was with rivals Standard Liege and partnered Broos for most of his 24 full international caps, once said in an interview.

"Hugo never gave anything other than 100 per cent in every game. He must have been a coach's dream because you wouldn't have to talk to him. He always knew his job."

This dedication to his craft culminated in him going to the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, and while he was a bit part player for Mexico '86, he views that experience as the highlight of his career.

"That was when everything changed for Belgian football, and I'm glad to say that I played a part in it," Broos said 25 years later.

"Before that tournament, it was unheard of for a big German or Italian club to sign one of us. For sure, we dreamed about it from time to time, but it was never a reality.

"And then we are in a World Cup semi-final, and we finish fourth, so there was a big exodus of players from the Belgian league over the next few years.

By that time I was 34, so it was never going to happen to me."

The memories of Mexico came flooding back last night when Broos came face to face with the man who almost single-handedly stopped Belgium getting to that World Cup final - Diego Maradona, the head coach of Al Wasl.

In the Azteca Stadium, Maradona scored both goals in a 2-0 semi-final win. The second was almost as good as his strike in the previous round when he danced past five England players and scored.

"We had a great campaign and, for me, this is my highlight. I actually didn't play in the semi-final so Maradona didn't get the chance to dribble past me. I was out on the bench; it's why we lost," he said with a wink.

Of all the Belgian exports during that golden period, the best was Enzo Scifo, the gifted playmaker who went to play for, among others, Inter Milan and Monaco.

"Hugo was a hero of mine because I was an Anderlecht fan and he always played well in the big European games that I was taken to as a young boy," Scifo once said of Broos.

"He was everything you would want in a player and, if you add up to what he also did as a coach, he is probably the best person in Belgian football history."

And now it is Jazira's turn to gain from this experience and knowledge.

His wife Sonia - he has three grown up children - arrived this month and they now have an apartment and like the look of Abu Dhabi, even if the start to this new life in the desert was a little tricky.

"The first few weeks were too much, actually way, way too much with me just trying to take everything in," he said.

"Everything was very new, but this is football and in many ways, no matter where you are, it is the same in regards how you go about your job."

And it is not as if Broos is new to coaching.

From 1991 to 1998, while with Club Brugge, he won the championship twice, in 1992 an 1996, and three Belgian cups.

He joined Anderlecht in 2002 where he enjoyed more success with the 2003/04 title.

"I was voted four times the best trainer of the year in Belgium, which is a record. That is something I am proud of," said Broos who was also head coach for three moderately successful years at Genk with Vercauteren his assistant.

"I am 59 years old now. This is the autumn of my career so it is no surprise that I am now a No 2. I coached the big teams in Belgium and last season saved a small team [Zulte Waregem] from relegation, but clubs tend to look for younger men.

"So I did wonder what I would do next. I got an offer from Morocco and then one from Turkey where I worked before [with Trabzonspor] but I'm never going back there. That was an awful experience."

So after over 40 years in football, Broos finds himself in the UAE.

"I like it here. There are good, good players, both local and international, and that has been good to see," he said.

"Let's see what happens but, so far, this has been a good, positive experience."


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