DUBAI // For all the success gleaned at various outposts around the world, it was a January evening in Abu Dhabi in 2007 that ensures Bruno Metsu's memory will live long in the Emirates.
The Frenchman, who yesterday lost a year-long battle against cancer, will forever be synonymous with the Gulf Cup of six years ago, when he took the tournament’s aspiring hosts and masterminded their journey to the title.
The UAE were crowned champions following years of near-misses – three times they had lost in the final – at a Zayed Sports City trembling to the voice of 60,000 spectators as Ismail Matar scored the only goal against Oman for the trophy.
Matar may have been the obvious hero, but Metsu, with his insatiable desire to win, was undoubtedly the architect.
“I learnt a lot from him, particularly in professionalism and leadership,” said Mohammed Omar, the UAE captain that night, when news of Metsu’s death broke. “One thing I will never forget is his words: ‘Always be on the winning side. There is no place for those who finish second.’ It is true because success is measured by results.
“It is a very sad day for me. I was very close to him and shared some great moments.”
Metsu had already proved his pedigree during two years at Al Ain, where he won two league titles and led the club to a 2003 Asian Champions League triumph against Thailand’s BEC Thero Sasana. They are the only Emirati side to lift the trophy.
“There are a lot of coaches who come to the UAE – big names with big reputations – but they don’t know how to help players psychologically as well as technically,” said Fahad Ali, the former Al Ain defender, last summer.
“Yet Bruno, when it comes to this aspect, is one of the best coaches to have managed in the Emirates.”
Metsu’s reputation as a master of his craft, particularly in the Arabian Gulf region, would convince Al Wasl last July that he was the manager to rescue their struggling club.
He began impressively, too, with the Dubai side unbeaten through their opening five league matches, only for illness to strike and force him to relinquish his position. Wasl never truly recovered.
“He was my coach for three or four months, but immediately you knew he was a positive person, all the time looking at small details and always with a big respect for the players,” said Mariano Donda, the Wasl midfielder. “When he left the club, we would still feel his presence day by day.
“Perhaps the only good to come from this bad news is that his suffering has stopped. Now another life has started for him. His family must stay close, and we must pray for them and encourage them to try to continue living their lives, because we are fortunate to have the opportunity to do that.”
Metsu, 59, was diagnosed with the illness last October. He died yesterday morning at a clinic in Coudekerque-Village, his hometown in northern France. He is survived by wife, Viviane, and their three children.
Mutaz Abdullah, the former Al Ain and UAE goalkeeper, who plies his trade these days with Ajman, said: “My thoughts are with his young family. It is a massive loss.
“He was a charismatic coach and was admired by everyone associated with football in the region.”
A selection of other quotes from players, coaches and officials
Mutaz Abdullah (former Al Ain and UAE goalkeeper, now at Ajman)
“I was one of those fortunate enough to play under him. He enjoyed a lot of success as a coach in the UAE. I really admired him as a coach. He was a great coach and friend.”
Mariano Donda (Al Wasl midfielder)
“I met Bruno in June 2012 and I thought he was a good person, educated with important moral values. When I heard about his illness it was difficult to take because the first thing I thought about was my family and I was away from them.
I called him often to see how he was doing, but you could see in his physical appearance. It’s really sad news for the people who met him. I don’t know what more I can say.”
Sultan Hareb (member of Wasl board)
“It’s very sad moment today to hear the news, because the last time I saw him he was in good spirits, and seemed very happy. We’re sad at this moment because we’re all losing an extremely honest guy; not just Wasl, but the whole of the UAE. Our thoughts are with his family.”
Eid Baroot (Emirates Club coach, and caretaker coach at Al Wasl last season)
“I know him from when he was in Al Wasl and he passed through from time-to-time to see us. He was always really nice, very respectful. The sports people in the UAE respect him for his achievements with the national team and Al Ain. He had something to give to UAE football, which we are very happy for. He did a very excellent job; everybody will always remember Bruno. I share the sadness with his family and wish them the strength to pass this period.”
Claude Le Roy (former Senegal, Cameroon and Ghana coach)
“I’m in shock. He fought like a lion. We had a lot of adventures together. I will remember his magnificent smile and his love of life. It’s terrible for him, for Viviane [his wife] and the kids. I’m thinking about them in particular.”
Noel Le Graet (French Football Federation (FFF) president)
“He was really passionate about football, he’ll leave the memory of a winner who succeeded I’d say on all continents with mad passion, a desire to win, consistency.
“An important personality from French football has left us. He gave the impression of a man able to convince others that French football had values. He was an example to follow in his convictions and the missions he undertook.”
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