Saudi Arabia convinced next manager can continue progress made under Herve Renard

Federation president Yasser Al Misehal tells The National talks over Frenchman's replacement are reaching final stages and announcement could be made next month

Herve Renard left his position as Saudi Arabia manager in March after overseeing a huge period of progress, including a victory over Argentina at the 2022 World Cup. AFP
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The Saudi Arabian Football Federation are confident they will appoint a manager to build on the success Herve Renard enjoyed with the team, with the organisation moving closer to confirming his replacement.

The federation are currently in negotiations with Renard’s successor after the Frenchman left his role in March. Renard, whose contract ran until 2027, departed to become France Women’s head coach.

With the Saudi senior national team not playing during next month’s international break — the decision was taken last year to give the players time off following the winter World Cup — the SAFF expect to have a new manager in place within the next one or two months so he can begin to plot the side’s 2023 Asian Cup campaign.

The tournament, initially set for China this summer, will take place in Qatar at the beginning of next year.

Speaking to The National, SAFF president Yasser Al Misehal said: “We are almost in the final stages of negotiations with one of the top coaches. And we hope by June, July maximum, we will announce the name so he will be able to join us before the end of the July to attend some of the matches the Saudi clubs will play during the King Salman Club Cup [July 20-August 5].”

Appointed as Saudi manager in July 2019, Renard oversaw a period of marked progress in which the team qualified for the 2022 World Cup as group winners ahead of Japan and Australia.

In Qatar, Saudi Arabia defeated Argentina in their opening group match to record one of the greatest shocks in World Cup history. The loss represented the eventual champions’ only defeat at the tournament.

However, although Saudi Arabia did not manage to emerge from the group — they lost to Poland and Mexico, despite outplaying the former — they still departed Qatar with reputation enhanced.

Al Misehal praised the impact Renard had on the team, adding he was convinced the federation will choose a manager to ensure the recent period of rude health continues.

“Of course, we had a great success with Herve, a great four years,” Al Misehal said. “Our [Fifa world] ranking jumped from 70 to 54 — it reached 48. I think now football is getting more advanced, it’s becoming a little easier for any coach to get familiar with the football ecosystem, with the players, and Saudi Arabia now as a football nation is becoming an attractive place for a lot of coaches and players as well.

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“We’ve set our criteria with our technical director and we have reviewed, I would say, five to six CVs of the coaches that we think will fit our requirements. And we have advanced negotiations with one of them.

“We just want to make sure that, after all the leagues are finished, then we want to go ahead and sign the contract hopefully. I’m confident that we’re going to have another coach that can carry on what Herve has achieved with us.”

As for the qualities the SAFF were looking for in a new manager, Al Misehal said: “We want a coach who has the winning mentality, a coach who’s very disciplined and also eager or hungry to gain more success. A coach who’s motivated and, despite having a good proven record, wants to achieve something. That’s very important.

“And, technically as well, somebody who will be able to get the best out of the players we have in Saudi. It’s very good that we have some very young players; some of our players that played in the World Cup are 23, 24.

“So we have some really talented players. Hopefully, we can have a coach that gets the maximum out of them.”

Al Misehal, who this month was re-elected as SAFF president for the next four years, said the stability of the board, the national team’s strong performance at the World Cup, and the December signing of Cristiano Ronaldo at Al Nassr, have combined to make the kingdom a more viable destination for some of the game’s most prominent managers.

Saudi football is shaping up for a major summer transfer window, with a number of high-profile players and coaches linked with a move to the Gulf country — chief among those Lionel Messi.

The World Cup winner, 35, is understood to be weighing up offers from Saudi Arabia, former club Barcelona, and Major League Soccer side Inter Miami.

On Messi’s possible transfer to Saudi Arabia, Al Misehal said: “As I answered previously about Cristiano, for me, as president of the federation, I don’t get involved in any negotiations between any player or any Saudi club.

“But from my personal point of view, I would love to see a legend like Messi playing in the Saudi league. I think this would make another huge imprint that will help to elevate Saudi football in general.

“But, unfortunately, I cannot tell you anything about it because I’m not involved in any discussion. But of course, everybody is following these, as I would put it, rumours — because nothing is official yet.

“But I think some other players are on the radar of some of the Saudi clubs, so let’s wait for the next summer window and hopefully we can hear some exciting news.”

Meanwhile, the Saudi national team were on Thursday drawn in Group F for the 2023 Asian Cup alongside Thailand, Kyrgyzstan and Oman.

The three-time winners, who will host the 2027 edition, have not captured the continent’s premier title since 1996. Saudi Arabia did, though, lift their second Asian Cup trophy the first time the tournament was staged in Qatar, in 1988.

“For the draw, we are very familiar with two national teams, which we managed to get six points from each during World Cup qualification [Thailand, 2018 qualification; Oman, 2022],” Al Misehal said. “But this tournament will be different — it will be more competitive, and no game will be easy.

“We have to work very hard to make a very high performance and hopefully we can advance to the final stages, because we have great memories of 1988, our second Asian Cup win.

“And we have great memories six months ago when we played in the World Cup in Qatar. So we are going for the same fantastic moments we’ve been through at Lusail Stadium, to have similar fantastic moments in Al Bayt Stadium. It will be very tough, but I think it can be very successful.

“As Qatar has successfully delivered the best edition of the World Cup, I’m also very confident they will deliver the best edition of the Asian Cup.”

Updated: May 16, 2023, 3:34 PM