With apologies to Steven Gerrard, his spell in charge of Saudi Super League side Al-Ettifaq has already provided more comedy than David Brent’s entire back catalogue.
Having used his illustrious playing career to snare the Rangers job, Gerrard was a genuine success in Glasgow. His side won the Scottish Premiership title without losing a single league match, receiving 102 points and conceding only 13 goals across 38 matches.
The move to Aston Villa seemed a natural step, with Gerrard making not-so-subtle proclamations of his desire to manage Liverpool in the future. But his Villa Park reign ended after 12 months, a string of defeats and thousands of angry Brummies demanding his head on a silver platter.
With ambitions of usurping Jurgen Klopp at Anfield looking more foolish than a fourth-weekday pint, the former England captain needed a fresh approach. Enter Saudi Arabia.
Luring Gerrard with the promise of riches, autonomy and Phil Collins performing live at the training ground every day, the 43-year-old agreed a deal with Al-Ettifaq.
His announcement video on Twitter, spoken in a curious Scouse-Arabic accent in the manner of your da ordering in a restaurant on holiday, went viral.
A second effort, with Gerrard sat behind a table with two miniature flags perched next to him, looked like the leader of a military coup announcing the immediate introduction of curfews.
But neither compared to footage from his first training session in the kingdom; as his Al-Ettifaq charges lined up in the boiling sun, Gerrard decided to ease them with a gentle passing exercise. What could go wrong?
Like a true Brit venturing out to foreign shores, Gerrard chose to speak in English. Unfortunately, while most chose the ineffective method of speaking louder and slower, the Al-Ettifaq chose the even less effective tactic of using his normal voice.
“One-two, one-two,” he word-vomited as his baffled players looked on. “You want it?” On this evidence, Gerrard should be spending £700,000 a week on a translator rather than Jordan Henderson.
With his arms open like a karaoke version of Christ the Redeemer, Gerrard pushed on. “Tell me then, tell me then,” he cried, his right hand adopting a strange crab-groping position.
No luck. As he aborted the exercise, the Liverpool legend could be heard exclaiming “No communication”. We wouldn’t blame the Al-Ettifaq players for thinking exactly the same thing.
Steven Gerrard's first training session in Saudi Arabia could be a deleted scene from The Office…pic.twitter.com/ZJAwCP56rE
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) July 13, 2023
Although Gerrard initially rejected the Al Ettifaq job, he had a change of heart eventually – and it apparently had nothing to do with the whopping pay cheque slapped on the table.
“When I went to Saudi I got a real family feeling. It made me actually feel welcomed.
“There are three things I always consider in order — it needs to be right for my family first and foremost. We have to be excited and motivated by the challenge.
“Secondly I think the football project needs to be ambitious, it needs to be for the right reasons, and then of course you need to feel secure with the contract, but this comes at the very end,” Gerrard told Al Ettifaq’s Twitter account last Sunday without a hint of irony.
His reign in Saudi Arabia will be watched with interest by his countrymen back home, most of whom rubberneck at the Saudi League like a car crash on the A38.
And with his announcement videos, wildly overspending on Jordan Henderson and training sessions that could feasibly pass as a deleted scene from The Office, Gerrard certainly isn’t scrimping on content for the nation’s creative writers.
By Michael Lee