DUBAI // Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr manager, has dampened expectations for the new season, despite his side running eventual champions Al Ain close last campaign.
The Italian has overseen a significant upturn in fortunes at the club since joining in January last year, transforming Nasr from relegation candidates into a side with genuine title aspirations.
The season before his arrival, the Dubai-based team ranked 10th in the league, but improved considerably the following year to qualify for the Asian Champions League for the first time in their history, because of their a third-place finish.
Nasr went one better last season, though, in the closing months pushing Al Ain for the league crown before finishing second, 14 points behind Cosmin Olaroiu's side.
Zenga, who in May signed a two-year contract to remain at the Al Maktoum Stadium, is now aiming to go even further and said his focus is firmly on preparations for a campaign that involves fighting for trophies both domestically and continentally.
"The priority is the training today, and then tomorrow; the only expectation is working well," he told The National as he took training last night. "It's difficult to prioritise before the start of the season. The priority becomes the league or the final of a cup competition, if you get there, in only February or March. Then you have to think about the players; then there can be a choice."
Nasr have not tasted league success since their title-winning side of 1986, with the Presidents Cup victory three years later the last time they lifted any silverware at all.
Their inaugural Asian Champions League adventure was a brief one: Nasr did not make it out of their group, although they were placed in perhaps the most difficult of the Western Asian pools.
"We were unlucky regarding the draw," Zenga, 46, said. "We had the champions of Qatar [Lekhwiya], the champions of Iran [Sepahan] and one of the best teams in Saudi [Al Ahli]. It was very difficult but we still made a good impression.
"Yet it's been many years since this club won anything and the expectations are very high. The problem is we've built something in this year and a half I've been here.
"Now we're on the right track in terms of training, organisation and the group of players we have.
"But this and winning the league are a very long way apart, and it's a really hard task. Last year, in the crucial part of the season, we had a couple of bad games against Al Wahda and Dubai and paid the price.
"We know now we must be strong in the locker room and on the pitch, where sometimes making mistakes is necessary in order to understand your goal. I've only one point in my mind - if you're working hard sooner or later the result will come.
Zenga added: "I'm happy here because I'm head coach and I'm doing the best thing in my life. I would like to become part of the history of the club, not just a part of the club."
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