x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Arabian Gulf League: Walter Zenga has a view to stick around

Former Al Nasr manager keen to remain in the UAE. Baniyas and Dubai would appear his only options.

Walter Zenga says he will be happy to help new Al Nasr coach Ivan Jovanovic settle in at the Dubai club if asked.
Walter Zenga says he will be happy to help new Al Nasr coach Ivan Jovanovic settle in at the Dubai club if asked.

DUBAI //Walter Zenga says he would like to continue his career in the UAE as the former Al Nasr coach seeks a swift return to management.

The Italian parted company with the Dubai club earlier this month following a frustrating season in which Nasr finished sixth in the Pro League and struggled throughout their Asian Champions League campaign.

However, Zenga's reputation inside the country remains high given his overall record at Al Maktoum Stadium, where within months of his arrival in 2010 he transformed Nasr from relegation candidates into the division's third-best side. The following season he guided them to second place.

Zenga is believed to be settled in Dubai, with his Romanian wife and young family, and has asked his agent to find him a position at another club in the rebranded Arabian Gulf League.

The options appear limited, though, as only Al Ahli, Baniyas and Dubai are without a manager. Ahli have identified two potential targets; Zenga is not one of them.

His preference is to stay in the Emirates, but the lack of job opportunities has convinced the former Al Ain coach to expand his search to include clubs in Qatar or Saudi Arabia. In 2010 he managed Al Nassr, the Riyadh-based side.

"My first priority is my family, not my career," Zenga said in an interview with Dubai Sports Channel. "We are about to go on vacation, in Italy and Romania, and we will be back after Ramadan, although I hope to be back before that. My son was born in Dubai and he wants to stay here. I am not resentful or angry because I left Al Nasr. Such is life. If I didn't know this, I wouldn't have worked as coach."

Zenga, 53, also questioned the perception that Sven-Goran Eriksson played a role in his departure. The Swede spent the final four months of last season as Nasr's technical adviser, and his presence was thought to have undermined the coach.

Yet Eriksson has since left the club, too, to become manager of China's Guangzhou R&F.

Zenga said: "It would've been easy for me to say Eriksson was the reason behind my departure, but I assure you he never interfered in the locker room.

"He may have had a talk with Ahmed Khouri," he said, referring to the club vice president, "and convinced him of a few things. But whoever said that Zenga is leaving because Eriksson is taking his place was wrong because we left together. Maybe he left because he didn't approve of my dismissal. People act however they see fit. In the end, neither one of us stayed with Al Nasr."

The club today will introduce Zenga's successor, Ivan Jovanovic. The Serbian, who enjoyed five successful years in Cyprus with Apoel Nicosia, has never managed in the Gulf, although Zenga revealed he would be willing to smooth the transition, if Jovanovic requests it.

"At the end of 2010, I met with Al Nasr's former coach, Eid Baroot, and we discussed a few details about the club," Zenga said. "I'm prepared to lend a helping hand to the new coach should he ask for it. But the coach may or may not want to talk with me. It depends on his mentality and philosophy."

jmcauley@thenational.ae