Ivan Hasek is returning to the scene of “the most beautiful years of my life” after he was yesterday appointed the coach of Al Ahli for the second time.
The Czech, who guided Ahli to the President’s Cup in 2008 and the inaugural Pro League title the following season, stepped down from his post as chairman of the Czech Football Federation on Sunday before announcing his move to the Dubai club.
“I am returning where I belong, to the coach’s profession,” Hasek was quoted as saying on a Czech website after tendering his resignation at the end of the federatzion’s general assembly.
“I will go to the place that I left two years ago, to Al Ahli.”
As revealed in The National on June 12, Ahli decided on Hasek as their first-choice candidate before the end of last season. He was in Dubai to watch the club’s last match of 2010/11 and discuss personal terms. Ahli, however, chose to delay announcing his appointment – on a two-year deal – until yesterday.
Hasek, 47, spent one and half years at Ahli during his first spell, and also won the 2009 Super Cup before returning home to contest the elections for the Czech Football Federation presidency.
“I would have loved to continue with Ahli for another season at least, if not longer,” he said at the time of his departure. “The one and a half years I have spent here are the most beautiful of my life.
“But after one and a half years here, I think it is better to leave. Sometimes a change is good for the team and can increase the benefits.”
The changes, however, did not work for Ahli and they have struggled in the past two seasons, finishing eighth both times.
They have been through a coaching carousel during this period, with six different managers in the dugout. The last of them was the high-profile appointment of David O’Leary, the former Aston Villa and Leeds United manager, who was dismissed in April after just nine months in charge.
Ahli hope the return of Hasek, who captained his national team at the 1990 World Cup, will spark a turnaround in fortunes.
“Hasek has worked here before and was very successful with the team,” said Ahmed Khalifa, Ahli’s chief executive. “So he is the best man to lead the club in the new season.
“He is a big name and has a lot of experience, especially of UAE football. We had a very good relationship with him when he was here and that makes him a natural choice.
“Of course, we understand he cannot turn things around in one day and we will support him in everything.”
The former Sparta Prague and Strasbourg manager is expected to start work in the first week of July and one of his first decisions could be regarding the futures of Fabio Cannavaro, the 37-year-old Italian centre-back, and Pinga, the Brazilian forward.
Ahli have already signed two foreign players – the Brazilian strikers Grafite and Jaja Coelho – meaning there is room for only one of their two foreign players from last season under Pro League rules.
Ahli’s two summer signings mean Hasek will also have a decision to make regarding his strike force. Pinga was the club’s top scorer last season while Ahmed Khalil, the UAE forward, is also on Ahli’s books along with his brother Faisal, also an international.
The club have opened negotiations with the 29-year-old Uruguayan striker, who is currently playing for Penarol in Uruguay.
Olivera played alongside Edson Puch at Universidad de Chile last year and was the top scorer in the league. Puch, the Chile international, signed a four-year deal with Wasl before Maradona’s arrival.
According to club sources, Francisco Yeste, the Spaniard who was one of the best players in the league last season, is likely to continue with the club for next season and Mohammed al Shaibah, the Omani international who has two years remaining on his contract, could also be retained given the three-plus-one quota.
Wasl have also started negotiations with Al Wahda for their striker Saeed Al Kathiri and if the deal goes through, he will be their fourth local signing after Hamad Al Hosani, Ali Rabeah and Mubarak Hassan.
They have also brought in Fahad Masoud on a loan from Wahda.