Michel Bastos finishes with a goal and an assist to put exclamation mark on the first win for the new Al Ain manager, writes John McAuley.
Calm debut translates into success for Al Ain’s Quique Sanchez Flores
Al Shaab 1 Al Ain 3
Al Shaab: Wobay 9’
Al Ain: Radoi 51’, Juma 72’, Bastos 83’
Man of the match: Michel Bastos (Al Ain)
SHARJAH// Quique Sanchez Flores sauntered into the open at the Khaled bin Mohammed Stadium and waved, almost apologetically, to a small band of supporters serenading him from behind the dugout.
The Spaniard does not seem the type to covet attention, yet in his latest guise as manager of the reigning UAE champions, he will expect it, and soon learn to embrace it.
This was his first assignment as Al Ain’s new coach, a relatively low-key League Cup visit to Al Shaab providing an almost unbefitting setting for his official bow.
For Quique, though, it was perfect. Forever understated, if not effortlessly cool, he spent much of the Group A clash striking a series of poses that suggested he will take everything his fresh role throws at him in stride.
Whether it was arms crossed, hands on hips or even tucked casually behind his back, Sanchez Flores was a picture of serenity. If you listened closely, you could almost hear him whistling his way through the proceedings.
“I’m relaxed,” he said, rather needlessly, after his side’s 3-1 comeback victory on Friday night.
“Happy to be back, and the players are very focused for the future.”
Six days into his tenure, and scattered minds have been swiftly put to ease.
Al Ain will surely be grateful for Sanchez Flores’s calming presence, given that a stormy summer has blown a path right through their early season. The Garden City club clearly lurched from Cosmin Olaroiu’s surprise departure to the ill-informed, late-summer appointment of Jorge Fossati.
Three defeats in their first five matches across all competitions is not the stuff of champions, but a week’s work with Sanchez Flores has already restored confidence. The former Al Ahli manager has a knack for instilling belief.
“The feeling during my first week is really amazing, because I trust these players,” he said.
“I admired them when I was training another team, so from a distance, I always thought they were good players.”
That admiration appears mutual.
“The coach has been very calm, not wanting to change too much, too quickly,” said Alex Brosque, the Al Ain forward.
“He said from the start that the team is a champion team and that he just wants to build on that. Under his guidance, we can go a long way.”
Despite Sanchez Flores’s resolutely unflappable nature, Shaab still tried their best to ruffle him.
The hosts had the temerity to strike first, in the ninth minute, when Julius Wobay collected a long ball on the left, drove into the Al Ain area and unleashed an unstoppable shot high into the net.
Sanchez Flores’s response? He simply clapped encouragement and informed his players to remain composed.
Presumably, the message was reinforced at half-time, for Al Ain emerged from the break with renewed purpose.
Within five minutes they were level.
Ibrahim Diaky found Mirel Radoi, his midfield partner, on the edge of the Shaab box and the Romanian drilled a low effort inside the post.
With Al Ain now rampant, Fares Juma marked a period of domination with a well-directed header in off the crossbar, and then Michel Bastos soon wrapped up the points with a nonchalant finish. Sanchez Flores would have particularly enjoyed the execution, but he simply applauded.
“We’ll try to work very hard so we can put the best Al Ain on the pitch as soon as possible,” he said.
“Because I would like to aspire to win all the titles we play for. It’s impossible for me to calculate when we’ll be able to do that, but for now the best vitamin for us is to win, to recover the confidence, the morale.”
If not quite yet mission accomplished, Al Ain appear, finally, in steady hands.