Cosmin Olaroiu the only man to solve Saudi Arabia’s Asian Cup crisis

John MacAuley explains why Cosmin Olaroiu is the only man Saudi Arabia could have turned to in their hour of need.
Cosmin Olaroiu has temporarily left his day job as Al Ahli manager to take charge of Saudi Arabia's Asian Cup campaign. Sarah Dea/The National
Cosmin Olaroiu has temporarily left his day job as Al Ahli manager to take charge of Saudi Arabia's Asian Cup campaign. Sarah Dea/The National

Cosmin Olaroiu was stood propped against a pole during team training last week. Bearded and beaming, he was sporting Saudi Arabia green instead of Al Ahli red, seemingly without a care in the world.

Drafted into the Asian Cup at the last minute, the Romanian was giving little away. He has been called in as a temporary fix in a broken set-up, tasked with guiding present underachievers to the summit of the continent.

Fortunate, then, that he boasts those broad shoulders.

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While Olaroiu’s exact remit remains unclear, publicly at least, there can be little doubt the Saudis expect much from this month’s Australian sojourn.

The federation requested a coach they knew from days spent in the Saudi Pro league, while also being a manager the players are familiar with, having once guided Al Hilal to domestic league and cup success, and one accepted by the Saudi supporters – the most demanding in the Arabian Gulf, if not Asia.

Yet Olaroiu is at his best in the eye of a storm. That is obvious in the way he moulded Ahli’s Arabian Gulf League title success last season, amid court battles and touchline bans, following his move – in what many perceived to be his defection – from rivals Al Ain.

Study his track record: trophies at Steaua Bucharest, Hilal, Al Sadd and Al Ain – the most prominent clubs in Romania, Saudi, Qatar and the UAE, respectively. Olaroiu is a man for the grand occasion.

He will need to be. This Saudi side may have reached the final of November’s Gulf Cup of Nations, but it took place on home soil and the title represented the only objective.

Juan Ramon Lopez Caro, the experienced Spaniard, was therefore deemed inadequate and so Olaroiu was parachuted in, albeit simply until his new employers’ Asian Cup excursion concludes. The introduction has been inauspicious – at least as far as results are concerned – with Saudi losing 4-1 to Bahrain and then 2-0 to South Korea.

The players, though, are reported to have already bought into Olaroiu, impressed by his intimate knowledge of the squad and his meticulous approach, which is personified by the presence in Australia of the Ahli performance analyst team.

The brief might be brief, but there shall be no stone left unturned.

Crucially, too, Olaroiu knows the mentality of what many perceive to be traditionally difficult Saudi players. A master man-manager, he understands how to handle egos, of which there are a few in his squad. But he is astute enough to coax the maximum from what is undeniably a talented group.

Tactically, too, Olaroiu is adept, which sits particularly well with a Saudi delegation who blame substandard match strategy for disappointment stretching back to the last decade.

Olaroiu must revitalise and remodel the continental heavyweights. Saudi Arabia are three-times Asian champions, six-times finalists, but in 2011 returned from Qatar without a point. Their group this time includes an emergent China, North Korea and Uzbekistan.

Saudi qualified well – unbeaten in six games, with five wins -–and a knowledgeable squad includes some genuine stardust in Nasser Al Shamrani and Nawaf Al Abed.

Tiredness, from an overcrowded domestic schedule, and temperament are important factors to consider, as is the issue of time.

It has been in short supply for Olaroiu, but in plumping for a serial winner, Saudi have made the best of an unfortunate situation.

Follow us on Twitter @SprtNationalUAE

Published: January 6, 2015 04:00 AM


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