Dubai: For the past two seasons, covering matches involving Al Shabab was more of a joy due to the presence of a certain Luiz Carlos Saroli — known as Caio Junior. The news of him being on the ill-fated Colombia flight, which wiped out the entire Chapecoense football team when it crashed, was shattering.
The chartered aircraft, which was flying from Brazil via Bolivia, crashed on its approach to the city of Medellin in Colombia.
Footballing circles in the UAE responded in shock after hearing of the tragic demise of the former Al Shabab and Al Jazira coach. News reports indicated that all but five of the 81 passengers had died. Of these, three were supposed to be Chapecoense players.
As news trickled in that Caio Junior was no more, a distraught Al Shabab media officer Adel Al Hammadi insisted that they still held hope that their former coach may be one of those who had survived the crash. Most of the Al Shabab players tried to call Caio Junior on his private mobile phone with the hope that he may pick up their calls.
After spending two years with the side from Al Mamzar, the club decided to end Caio Junior’s contract after a run of losses and dropped points that resulted in Al Shabab ending fifth in the Arabian Gulf League (AGL), thus missing out on one of four direct spots in the AFC Champions League.
Caio Junior was a calm, calculated and yet a restless soul. He was a true professional and yet he brought in something very personal to the people with whom he worked while the players saw him as a father figure. The coach’s son Matheus has posted a message on Facebook requesting privacy for him and his family at such a difficult time. “Friends, my brother and my mother are both well. We request for some privacy at this moment and thank everyone who has been sending in condolence messages,” Matheus said in his post.
He was also scheduled to accompany his father for the first leg of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana final between Chapecoense and Atletico Nacional in a match that was seen as the biggest in the history of the club. He forgot his passport at home and couldn’t make the trip.
“We are strong. We are going to get past this. Thank you one and all,” Matheus’s post concluded.
Following the crash, Atletico Nacional have requested the governing body of the competition that the trophy be awarded to Chapecoense as a tribute to the departed squad.
Ironically, Caio Junior’s last words to the media after qualifying for the final were: “If I die today, I will die a happy man.”
No one must have expected his wish would come true in this fashion!
Name: Luiz Carlos Saroli (Caio Junior)
Born: March 8, 1965 (Cascavel, Brazil)
Youth career: Gremio (1980); Cascavel (1983-1984)
Senior career: Gremio (1985-1987); Vitoria Guimaraes (1987-1992); Estrela Amadora (1992-1994)
Teams managed: Palmeiras (2007); Vissel Kobe (2009); Al Gharafa Qatar (2009-2011); Al Jazira (2012); Al Shabab (2014-2016).