Everyone knows the story of legendary Hector Cuper and if you don’t, you could follow his advice… “You can read my history.”
These were the words of a man who was asked by the press about his record in cup finals on the eve of another major cup final- a final that would join the long list of records. For those of you who don’t know Hector Cuper, Hector was a former Argentine footballer and is the current manager of the Egyptian national team.
Since he began dishing out instructions from the sidelines, Hector has known numerous heartbreaks and almost-cannot-kill-a-bird moments as a football manager. His tag as football’s unluckiest manager cannot be said to be an unfair tag given the unwanted stories the Argentine has written.
You see, Hector Cuper has been to six major finals and is yet to win one. It is an unfortunate record for a man who continuously beat the odds to take his teams to the finals only for them to be unable to cross the finish line as champions.
His firsts of such defeats came as the boss of Mallorca. Hector would guide the Spanish side to a Copa Del Rey clash against Barcelona which he would lose and another loss would follow to Lazio in the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup.
The most painful of them all would be the back-to-back Champions League Final losses he would suffer at the hands of Real Madrid and Bayern Munich with Valencia. It would break a man but not Cuper. Cuper would move to Inter Milan and the trend would follow strangely, where Internationale would lose 4-2 on the last day of the season to hand over the Scudetto to Juventus, becoming runners-up once again. Similar fate would befall the man again when his Aris’ side would lose a Greek Cup final against Panathinaikos.
To be honest, he was the underdog in the ties he entered but when he would lose an AFCON Final- a match which he was expected to end his run- to underdogs Cameroon, you could be forgiven for thinking that would be the straw that would break the camel’s back and end his time as a manager.
But credit the Egyptian FA who stuck with him and ‘wished him the best of luck’, Cuper was able to do what no other Egyptian AFCON winning coach could do since 1990- take them to the World Cup.
For 27 years, the World Cup has been a strange promise land for the Egyptians. Regardless of personnel, the Egyptians found it very hard to qualify for the World Cup and it would seem to be a paradox given the Pharaohs dominance on the African stage.
The Pharaohs last appeared in a World Cup in 1990 and since that time have won four AFCON tournaments with three coming successively as a three-peat. And in that time, Egypt have had 18 managers have a chance to deliver them a World Cup ticket of which Cuper would be the only one to do so.
Egypt’s decline since the Egyptian war is well documented with the Pharaohs missing out on three AFCON tournaments since they last won in 2010. The Egyptians were absent in 2012, 2013, and 2015 and would turn to Hector Cuper to help drag them out of their football crisis.Unsurprisingly, his appointment was met with mixed reactions with some questioning his poor outing with Georgia.
Cuper would inherit a squad that had lost five matches in one year and very low on confidence.But since he came Egypt has been on the rise.
The Pharaohs have held on to the whip since his arrival with just seven losses in 32 games a testament of the turnaround in the national team. He guided Egypt to their first AFCON final in seven years and although he fell short of winning it, Egypt was also a force to reckon with once again.
He reinstated legendary keeper Essam El Hadary for this year’s AFCON and retained him throughout the qualifiers. An important decision as the keeper has only conceded three goals throughout the Third Round qualifiers. His key men Mohammed Abdul Shafi, Mohamed El Neny, and Mohamed Salah have formed the backbone of the Egyptian squad with veteran El Hadary, a natural leader other players look up to.
Sunday’s win against Congo set the celebrations rolling, not only in Egypt but on the continent as fans would finally get to see ‘Africa’s best representative’ at the World Cup. Thanks to a man who football cruelly remembers as Football’s Unluckiest Coach.
When Egypt remembers the Hadarys, Hassans, Shehatas who contributed immensely to Egyptian football, standing tall among them will be the Argentine who never won a cup final but took Egypt to the promise land after 28 years of being in wait.