Seven months after assuming the Bahrain reins, Peter Taylor seems to be warming to his task. In his first coaching job overseas, the Englishman led his side to gold in December's Arab Games in Doha.
However, the team’s progress in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifiers has been less assured. Bahrain reached the play-offs for both Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010, but their chances of emerging from Group E in the third qualifying round for the next global finals look very slim, given that they lie third behind Iran and Qatar.
Destination Bahrain via online research
Following a coaching career in his homeland that included stints with Leicester City, Hull City, Bradford City and England’s U-21s, Taylor was installed in the Bahrain hot-seat last July and enjoyed immediate success, guiding his charges to victory at the inaugural Gulf Cooperation Council Games.
Despite starting from scratch in the small Gulf kingdom, the former Tottenham Hotspur winger quickly got to grips with Bahraini football and led his side to a second title at the Pan Arab Games late last year. Unsurprisingly, Taylor is enjoying the ride.
“It’s been a great experience to date,” he told FIFA.com. “We’ve had a number of great results, though it was difficult at first because it’s the first time I’ve coached outside of England. I had to get to know the people I’d be working with, but the great thing is that everyone has helped me to do my job, including the players themselves.”
Taylor is the first to admit he knew nothing about the country’s football before this year: “When I got the offer, I had to go online and find out about Bahraini football. I was also helped out by a friend of mine who’d done some coaching in Japan and had a better idea of the standard of the game in Bahrain. I was encouraged enough to accept!”
But despite his two successes, Bahrain’s qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014 has proved much more challenging. With just one game left in the third round of the Asian Zone qualifiers, his side lie third in their group behind the already-qualified Iran and second-placed Qatar.
Their final game, at home to Indonesia on 29 February, is a vital match for the Gulf side. If they are to go through to the fourth and final qualifying round, they must win by a sizeable margin and hope Iran beat Qatar in the group’s other game. Taylor is under no illusions about the scale of the challenge ahead.
“We’ve got a mountain to climb,” he said: “We have to beat Indonesia and hope Iran do the same to Qatar. It’s not an ideal position to be in. We were hoping to be where Qatar are now, with the best chance of going through.”
Taylor blamed their current predicament on their 6-0 loss to Iran last October: “We made a lot of errors in that game. We had a player sent off just 34 seconds after kick-off and we defended poorly, which let them score at will.”
However, Bahrain's problems have not been confined to the defence, as Taylor explained: “We haven’t had an out-and-out striker, and there are a lot of inexperienced youngsters in the side. These things have clearly affected us, not only against Iran but in the other games as well.
“We haven’t scored many goals in the qualifiers, and we wasted a lot of the chances we did create. I believe that we simply have to improve in this area, and I’m fully confident the younger players can raise their standards in coming games.”
The careers of the Bahraini players who took the team to the intercontinental play-offs for the last two FIFA World Cups are now coming to an end, and Taylor is very aware of the need to build a new side.
“When I talk to officials in Bahrain, I get the impression they’re pleased to see a lot of young players in the team,” he said. “In my opinion they should have brought them into the squad back in 2006 and 2010.”
“We now have to bring these new faces into the side immediately, but these guys need to get experience. That is the most important thing of all, but it can only come with time.”
For all that, Taylor has high hopes for the future of football in Bahrain, as he affirmed at the conclusion of our interview. “It will be disappointing if we go out of the World Cup qualifiers, but we will have to start getting ready to host the Gulf Cup in January next year," said the 59-year-old. "The best thing about the game here is the youngsters. They give it their all when they realise they have a chance of getting into the national side. The future looks promising.”