Dubai: Although only a few of the players on show at the 21st Gulf Cup in Bahrain, which begins in Manama on Saturday, are well known outside of the GCC, some of the managers have vast experience of football’s biggest stages.
Host nation coach Gabriel Calderon, who managed in the UAE Pro-League with Bani Yas last season, as a player had an important role as Argentina reached the final of the 1990 Fifa World Cup in Italy. He also played in the 1982 World Cup in Spain and spent many years in Europe.
Paul Le Guen, meanwhile, led Lyon to three successive French league titles early in the last decade, before also managing Glasgow Rangers in Scotland and the Cameroon national team ahead of his 2011 move to Oman. Unfortunately for the 48-year-old Frenchman, he will be without his best-known player in goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, who is staying with English Premier League club Wigan Athletic to help their fight against relegation.
But the biggest managerial name of all is that of Dutchman Frank Rijkaard — a legendary player for Ajax, AC Milan and his national team, before coaching the Dutch side and Spanish club giants Barcelona.
Rijkaard, now aged 50 and in charge of Saudi Arabia, led the Netherlands in his first managerial role to Euro 2000, where they produced some scintillating football — beating Yugoslavia 6-1 in the quarter-finals — but they were knocked out on penalties by Italy at the last-four stage.
After an unsuccessful stint with Dutch minnows Sparta Rotterdam, Rijkaard was appointed Barcelona boss in 2003 and set about reviving the Catalan club’s ailing fortunes. He built the foundations that led to the more recent successes enjoyed by successor Pep Guardiola by building a team around the qualities of La Masia academy graduates such as Carles Puyol, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, behind a front three of Ronaldinho, Ludovic Giuly and Samuel Eto’o.
The Nou Camp club hadn’t won a trophy since 1999, but under Rijkaard they won back-to-back La Liga titles and the Uefa Champions League in 2006.
The Gulf Cup tournament has a long history of giving a first break in the region to some of the very biggest names in football. Luminaries such as Leeds and England legend Don Revie (UAE), Brazilians Mario Zagallo (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE) and Carlos Alberto Parreira (Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia), ex-USSR boss Valery Lobanovskyi (Kuwait) and current England manager Roy Hodgson (UAE) all had spells in the GCC and took teams to the tournament over the years.