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Why will Marcelo Gallardo coach Riyadh Season against PSG?

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo face off on Thursday for possibly the last time as PSG face Riyadh Season, coached by Marcelo Gallardo.

Cristiano ya trabaja con Gallardo para su debut ante Messi
Twitter @Turki_alalshikh

It’s not often there’s so much hype surrounding a mid-season friendly (has there ever been, in fact?). From businessmen willing to pay $2.6 million for a ticket to the fact that Paris Saint-Germain are reportedly going to earn €10 million from what is essentially a kickabout. It might be the last Messi vs Ronaldo, but even so.

After the Qatar 2022 World Cup, the Spanish Super Cup 2023 and the Italian Super Cup final, all eyes will once again be on the Gulf – just the way they want it – as the Portuguese and the Argentine square up for one last time.

What is the Riyadh Season XI?

And, by association, all eyes will also be on Marcelo Gallardo, who will be in charge of the Riyadh Season team, which will be made up of a mix of players from Ronaldo’s Al Nassr and Al Hilal, the most decorated club in Saudi Arabia and indeed Asia, having won 65 trophies in their 65-year history.

The Portuguese will obviously be the star attraction and it was confirmed on Monday that he would captain the side. But who else is set to play for them? Fellow ex-Manchester United striker Odion Ighalo may start alongside Ronaldo up front, while former Villarreal and Marseille defender Álvaro González, Brazilian winger Matheus Pereira and Mousa Marega, formerly of Porto, are other well-known names who could feature. Saudi Arabian midfielder Salem Al-Dawsari, who hit the headlines thanks to a superb World Cup goal against Messi’s Argentina, is also in contention to play.

Why will Marcelo Gallardo coach Riyadh Season?

Gallardo posted a short video on social media on 5 January stating that he would be in charge of picking Riyadh Season: “Hello, I’m Marcelo Gallardo and I want to let you know that on 19 January I’m going to manage Riyadh Season, which will be made up of players from Al Hilal and Al Nassr against Paris Saint-Germain. I’ll see you there soon.”

All very matter-of-fact and nothing you didn’t know already. There can be little doubt that the organisers will have waved wads of cash in Gallardo’s face but the Argentine is also thought to be keen on coaching in Europe for his next challenge and what better way to put yourself in the shop window by associating yourself with Messi and, more closely in this case, Ronaldo?

What has Marcelo Gallardo won as a coach?

After a fine playing career in which he had three spells at River Plate, turned out for Monaco and Thursday’s opponents PSG in France and earned 44 caps for Argentina, Gallardo took charge of Uruguayan side Nacional, where he ended his days as a player. After winning the league title in his only season in charge, he moved back across the border to River, where he spent a total of eight-a-half years.

Although Gallardo only won one league title, he was hugely successful in other competitions, winning two Copa Libertadores, a Copa Sudamericana and three domestic cups amongst other lesser titles, as well as being named South American Coach of the Year in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

What happened between Marcelo Gallardo and PSG boss Christophe Galtier?

Incredibly enough and presumably by complete coincidence, the match pits Gallardo against a man with whom he had an altercation of epic proportions back in 2000, when the Argentine was playing for Monaco and Galtier was an assistant at Marseille. A feisty match carried over into the dressing room with the two ending up getting physical with one another, leaving one in hospital and the other suspended. Unsurprisingly, they have different stories of what unfolded.

Marcelo Gallardo’s first training session with Riyadh Season.

Galtier: “Gallardo insulted me and hit me. Mine was a reflex of self defence.”

Gallardo: “The first half ended and we went into the tunnel, which is where the ambush came. At the door were some private security guys; I was one of the last to get in and I heard a noise, as if something was closing. Indeed, the security had cut off the entrance to the tunnel. Galtier was waiting for me. He spoke to me a little in Spanish, he kind of grabbed my hair. I played dumb and shook him off. I just saw that he was going to throw a punch and I elbowed him in the middle of the face.

“Then a security officer grabbed me from behind, with an arm around my neck; the Marseille players came and started hitting me non-stop. It will have been about 15 or 20 seconds that they kicked and punched me from all sides. They hit me in the face, in the stomach, in the back. At three in the morning, I was still in the hospital”.

So, Gallardo ended up in hospital and Galtier was hit with a six-month suspension. Let’s hope for a rather more peaceful encounter in Riyadh.