Sir Geoff Hurst: Kuwait post proved a dream in the desert

4/12/2013
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Sir Geoff Hurst has been so synonymous with his hat-trick in England’s 1966 World Cup win that it’s easy to disregard other points in his career.

And never more so than his two seasons in the Gulf when he was coach of Kuwait Sporting Club.

The call came in 1982, months after a two-year tenure at Chelsea. It was a far different scenario at Stamford Bridge back then as the current European champions toiled in the second tier of English football.

Having struggled to get Chelsea back into the top flight, Hurst was ready to walk away from football after 22 years until his Middle East adventure – following on from ex-Leeds boss Don Revie, who quit England for the UAE national team job in 1977.

“I was slightly reluctant to come,” recalls Hurst. “Before the offer came, I had decided mentally I was leaving football, all football, after the Chelsea job.

“I was going to go into commerce as I had got involved with a company in a small way that was moving forward and I thought that would be the future.

“I went to Kuwait out of courtesy and I was impressed by the individuals on the board and the tax-free money was good. My wife [Judith] said you have to go and see them.

“From a family point she didn’t want to move to another country, any country, but saw the financial stability and benefit.

“I didn’t speak to Don, I just came out. If you had expertise from outside and tried to make players professional then there was always potential and that’s the view I took.

“Kuwait qualified for the World Cup in 1982 so I hope I had a slight influence. People don’t remember me being out there, but I’m glad I went and look back on it fondly.”

Hurst, now 70, adds: “There was less pressure, less fans, but they were one of the leading club sides. Al-Arabi were the big team and [former Spurs player] Dave Mackay was in charge there. He had 10 years of influence in the region and I saw him a few times and we had some laughs, it was like clashing in the old days when we were players.

“People talk about what level it is out there, but if you go as a coach and impart some of your knowledge and bring in some professionalism then I think it’s of benefit.

“We tried to do that and we had very basic rules – and you had to turn up for training was one. We had a row with a very senior player over this. He turned up late and we said if training starts and you’re not here, then off you go.

“A lot of the other players looked to see how we dealt with that. We were invited to a meeting of the directors the day it happened and John Cartwright, my No2, said we were going to get our passports back and be ejected out of the country.

“The player was part of the national side and we went to the board meeting and were told that with the Arab mentality, once you make a decision you don’t back down or you will lose serious face.

“So not only did we stand our ground, but we also said we weren’t sure if he was good enough to get into the team.

“There were a few Arab phrases muttered around the table but they said, ‘fine you’ve made a decision’. They asked if the players were aware of the disciplinary measures and our liaison said ‘yes’, so they accepted it.

“Although amateurs, if you don’t turn up and train, you don’t play. We didn’t have a problem after that. The players were technically gifted, but needed to be physically more aggressive and strong. The fans were passionate, if small on numbers. I was there for two seasons and the job was great.

“There were no contractual problems with players, no scouting, recruiting or buying players so we could just work on things in training and in games and then had three months off in between the seasons. After two seasons, they asked me to stay for another year and I was very tempted, but I had decided mentally to get out.”

Redknapp

Hurst’s scenario when he went to Kuwait might well resonate with Harry Redknapp after his recent departure from Tottenham. Hurst played with him at West Ham and then in 1976 with the Seattle Sounders in the North American Soccer League.

And he believes Redknapp still has much to offer, whether it is in the Gulf – where there may again be interest in his services after talks with UAE side Al Ahli in 2010 – or in English football.

“I was astonished by what happened,” said Hurst. “It was a huge task for Harry to get them into the top three, but it’s a loss for Spurs as a club and a huge plus for Harry.

“There’s talk of him coming to the Middle East and he might fancy it, a new challenge.

“He will be a huge asset because he has vast experience and dealt with players of all levels of the game.

“In managerial terms, I think Harry’s in a different class to [Diego] Maradona [at Al Wasl]. The biggest strength is he has ability to manage high-profile wealthy players and he doesn’t lose any sleep over what he does.

“Whatever confronts him he deals with it and he gets the job done. Maybe he would see a job in the UAE as one without the pressure he has been under a long time, much like I did in Kuwait.

“I’m out of it now, but maybe I would tell him to do it if it came up.”

Qatar World Cup

Hurst has witnessed the growing influence of the Gulf in football with Manchester City’s takeover by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Emirates sponsorship of Arsenal and Qatar’s successful bid to stage the 2022 World Cup.

The latter decision has caused a furore with fears that the summer heat could cause problems.

Hurst adds: “FIFA have a responsibility to take the World Cup around the world and I can see why they came to this region.

“There is a concern that the heat is not conducive to the players and whether it might affect the excitement as football is non-stop and you wonder whether you’d see the high intensity in games given the conditions.

“The heat is the only doubt. You have to take the World Cup all over the world, but it’s got to be good for everybody. And hopefully it will have an impact on this region too. Kuwait proved they could qualify – as did the UAE and Saudi Arabia – and there’s no reason why another can’t do it again in the future.”

 

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Van Gaal the fan’s favourite as hunt for Van Marwijk successor begins

4/12/2013
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Following Bert van Marwijk’s resignation from his position as the coach of the Dutch national team, Louis van Gaal has emerged as the fan’s favourite to succeed Van Marwijk after a disastrous Euro 2012.

According to De Telegraaf, 24% of Dutch supporters would like to see Van Gaal return to the national team. Van Gaal has previously coached Holland and was dismissed after failing to reach the World Cup in 2002. However Van Gaal has gone on to have success at AZ Alkmaar and Bayern Munich since then.

It was a sentiment echoed by Ronald de Boer who praised Van Marwijk for everything he had done for the national team on Twitter and offered his support to Van Gaal, “He [Van Marwijk] has done a great job and good luck with your next adventure.

“Louis van Gaal may do. I’d like to him to get his revenge [for 2002] and he remains our No. 1 coach.”

Van Marwijk’s assistant, Frank de Boer, is also a contender for the job but his twin brother Ronald feels it is too early for the Ajax manager and believes “his time will come.” Frank de Boer has won the Dutch Eredivisie in his first two seasons at the healm of Ajax and his experience as assistant to Van Marwijk suggests he is well equipped to become national team coach.

However, when offered an interview for the vacant Liverpool job De Boer stated, “I am honoured by the request [from Liverpool] but I have only just started with Ajax,” and it seems he would be willing to become the Holland manager at this stage in his career. When asked about Van Marwijk’s departure De Boer said, “You saw it coming of course.”

Foppe de Haan, Guus Hiddink and Ruud Gullit are also backed by fans to take over from Van Marwijk. With Holland due to play Belgium in a friendly on 15th August and begin their World Cup 2014 qualifying in September against Turkey, the Dutch must make their choice quickly.

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Euro 2012: Spain hero Fabregas told the ball “don’t miss”

4/12/2013
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Cesc Fabregas said he had a “feeling” that he would score the winning goal that sent Spain into the Euro 2012 final.

The Barcelona star stepped off the bench to play a crucial role in the dramatic win over Portugal. With the game goalless after extra time, it took a penalty shootout to decide the outcome in their semi-final tie.

And after Bruno Alves had missed Portugal’s second spot-kick, it was Fabregas who stepped up to score the winner, albeit with a fortunate rebound off the post and after telling himself “don’t miss” as he took it.

He said: “I wanted to take the fifth penalty. I had a feeling. I thought earlier there might be penalties. It’s incredible, it is so emotional.”

Fabregas scored the winning penalty when Spain beat Italy in their Euro 2008 quarter-final shootout. “Four years ago I told the ball not to let me down and I said the same thing,” he added.

Another who stepped up when it mattered was Sergio Ramos, whose cheeky chip ala Andrea Pirlo made up for his miss for Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich.

Captain Iker Casillas said: “He had watched the game the other day with Pirlo, It was not easy for him after the miss before [in the Champions League].”

And Ramos added: “We deserved to win as we did more in the game and I was confident I’d score. I wanted to show that.”

Spain will now face the winners of Thursday’s game between Germany and Italy and coach Vicente Del Bosque said: “You can question if we played well, but not our character. Italy or Germany? It’s the same to me. We’ve done what we had to do.”

Portugal counterpart Paulo Bento was gracious in defeat as he said: “Well done Spain. We fell like a great team should, with honour and with pride.”

 

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