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Cúper brings Egypt FA inexpensive mediocrity it sought all along
Argentine Héctor Cúper is being entrusted to resurrect the fortunes of Egypt’s storied national team despite a managerial career mired in mediocrity.
In fact, when only taking into account the past 12 years, “mediocre” may be putting it kindly for the 59 year-old.
Though the name is surprising since it wasn’t mentioned on any shortlists for the job, the choice itself shouldn’t be. It falls perfectly in line with the EFA’s long-standing policy of prioritizing low salaries over qualified coaches.
It’s happened time and again… a local coach fails, then the EFA promises to put forth the money required for a capable, proven international commodity, only to settle for whoever they can find on the cheap. If the under-qualified international manager succeeds (which hasn’t happened yet with Egypt), the EFA looks like a genius. If he doesn’t, they propetuate the rhetoric that “Egypt only does well with local coaches,” thereby guaranteeing that the next manager they have to pay for is Egyptian and… you guessed it, cheap. Rinse and repeat.
A tale of two careers
Cúper’s career wasn’t always middling. In fact, there was a time he was one of the most sought-after managers in the world. To boot, his teams displayed competence in areas today’s Egyptian squad needs it most, namely defense.
After a respectable couple of seasons with Argentina’s Huracán, Cúper led Lanús to successive third-place league finishes in 1995-1996 and 1996-1997. His teams conceded the second-fewest and fewest goals in each respective season.
Capitalizing on his early success, Cúper took his services to Europe and began a two-year stint with Spain’s Mallorca.
The Palma outfit finished fifth in the 1997-1998 La Liga table before improving to third in 1998-1999, both under Cúper’s tuteledge. He reached the Copa del Rey final in his first year at the club, losing to Barcelona. The following season, Cúper’s Mallorca reached the UEFA Cup Winners Cup final where they’d lose to Lazio. Defense was once again his team’s forte, as they allowed La Liga’s third-fewest and fewest goals respectively in those two seasons.
Cúper joined Spanish club Valencia in 1999, finishing third in La Liga and making it to two consecutive UEFA Champions League finals. They’d lose both, and Cúper was quickly developing a reputation as a manager that couldn’t win a final.
His team was once again stout defensively, conceding the second-fewest goals in La Liga in 1999-2000. The team dropped to fifth place the following season, but no team conceded fewer goals.
It was time for another step up the career ladder for Cúper, who moved onto Italian giants Inter Milan in 2001 and earned a third-place finish in Serie A. The team exited the 2002-2003 UEFA Champions League semifinals at the hands of AC Milan on the away goals tie-breaker.
The team would finish second the following season after seeing the league title slip through their fingers on the final match day. With a chance to secure Inter’s first Serie A crown since 1989, Cúper’s squad lost 4-2 to Lazio, handing the Scudetto over to rivals Juventus.
Cúper’s career never recovered.
A career in collapse
Already bitter over the final match day collapse months earlier, Inter Milan sacked Cúper six games into the 2003-2004 season after a sub-par start.
He returned to Mallorca 10 matches into their poor 2004-2005 league campaign, barely staving off relegation.
Cúper would leave the club in February 2006 after disappointing results. Mallorca were bottom of La Liga but rebounded to finish 13th after his departure.
Real Betis took a chance on the once-promising Argentine in 2006-2007, but sacked him halfway through the season. They would go on to finish 16th in La Liga.
Cúper then caught on with Italy’s Parma in 2008, but his team couldn’t avoid relegation and he was once again sacked. The team won just two out of the 10 games he managed.
In August of 2008 Cúper accepted his first national team gig, taking charge of Georgia. His contract wasn’t renewed and he was let go in December of 2009 after failing to win a single competitive match. Georgia won once (a friendly over Wales), lost 11 times, and drew four times under Cúper.
Considering the degree of difficulty for a minnow like Georgia in a confederation like UEFA, perhaps the losses are excusable, right? Yes, except for the fact that some came at the hands of teams like Malta and Cyprus.
Cúper’s now journeyman career took him to Greece, where he oversaw Aris Thessaloniki to fifth and sixth-placed finishes in two seasons in the 16-team league. The club conceded the 4th and 6th fewest goals respectively, but he resigned after a poor start to the 2011-2012 league campaign.
He then returned to La Liga and Racing Santander, but resigned five months later with the team in last place.
It would go from bad to worse for Cúper, who then left Turkey’s Orduspor by mutual consent after two bad seasons.
Cúper then coached the UAE’s Al Wasl for a season but was sacked after an abysmal campaign that saw the club narrowly escape relegation.
Just when it appears that Cúper’s coaching career is over, he’s somehow found a new suitor, being handed the reigns of what is arguably Africa’s most storied national team.
Is Cúper destined to fail with Egypt too? One can’t see the future, but short of a miraculous turnaround from an atrocious 12 years, the best Egypt fans can hope for is that he fails early enough to be let go before it’s too late for the team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and that the cost-effective Egyptian that supplants him turns out to be competent. Such a scenario would resemble 2004-2005, when Egyptian coaching icon Hassan Shehata excelled after taking over for Italian Marco Tardelli and his torrid spell in charge of the Pharaohs.
If you’re going to be exceedingly frugal with coaching salaries, why not at least do some homework and go after a younger, up-and-coming prospect? However unlikely it may be, you at least then afford yourself a chance to find a diamond in the rough and win. Isn’t that better than spending the same money on somebody that has consistently failed for 12 years? Isn’t the factor of the unknown a more worthwhile risk than almost certain failure? There’s irony in the fact that the EFA is choosing to throw away money in order to save money.
In a way, the EFA and Cúper are a sensible match… they’re two peas in a pod of mediocrity. One seeks it, the other has it. Cúper is simply the latest in a line of foreign place-holders for a football association whose top priority is money. Where “winning” ranks on that list of priorities, as with the whereabouts of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the EFA saves from hires like this, is anyone’s guess.