x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Frenchman Guy Lacombe eyes difficult challenge at Al Wasl

Bruno Metsu's replacement had contact with the club in the past, and he says he is not sure why he accepted the job now, but he has pedigree from Europe, writes John McAuley

Guy Lacombe last coached at Monaco in Ligue 1.
Guy Lacombe last coached at Monaco in Ligue 1.

A rapid recruitment, necessitated by the news last month of Bruno Metsu's illness, forced Al Wasl to recalibrate their hiring process.

The appointment in May 2011 of Diego Maradona, a headline-generator of very little managerial substance, was designed to raise the Dubai club's profile.

A fraught 14 months in charge - the Argentine legend had signed a two-year contract - ensured it was mission accomplished, although Maradona's mayhem guided Wasl to eighth in the Pro League, a regression from the previous year.

Much to their credit, this summer brought Metsu as Maradona's replacement; a man of genuine experience not only in the UAE, but throughout the region.

However, under strenuous circumstances, Wasl seem to have reverted to type. The unveiling yesterday of Guy Lacombe as the head coach brings a manager of undoubted pedigree in the top division in France, yet no knowledge of the football he will immerse himself in.

Lacombe, a streetwise coach having managed for more than a decade in Ligue 1, said as much as his first official media outing at Zabeel Stadium.

"I'm not really sure why I accepted it," he said through a translator. "We'll just wait and see."

It was not the most convincing of responses, but then he finds himself in a strange situation. On closer inspection, the apparent impetuous appointment was not that, after all.

"Maybe I was a bit hesitant at first because this is a new venture," said Lacombe, his charcoal grey suit already decorated with the yellow and black of a Wasl scarf. "But this is not my first time with Al Wasl.

"The club contacted me two years ago, there were negotiations but it didn't work out. It has now."

Lacombe later revealed he first visited the club in 2007, presumably in between jobs at Paris Saint-German and Stade Rennes. Back then he had been replaced at PSG by Paul LeGuen having guided the capital club to 15th in the league, only three places above relegation.

"Of course, the whole world heard about Al Wasl as soon as Diego Maradona was made manager," Lacombe said. "But I recognised them long before Maradona knew anything about the club."

The statement may not have been intended to indicate a prickly personality, but it hints as to why Lacombe's three years in charge of Sochaux, the modest Ligue 1 side that in 2004 he led to their first major trophy in 40 years, represents the longest stint at any of the seven clubs he has managed.

Roles at Cannes, Toulouse and Guingamp preceded his time at Stade Auguste Bonal, while Lacombe's last employer was AS Monaco, a club with serious distinction. He was dismissed, though, in January last year with the seven-time French champions in 17th place. They never recovered and today exist only in the second tier.

Yet Ismail Rashid, a member of the Wasl board, has little reservations about the qualities of his new colleague. "We were looking for a coach with a strong character, charisma and who also has experience," he said. "We wanted someone who can enforce his approach and style of play on Al Wasl.

"It took us time because we were looking to fill very big shoes left by Bruno. We had several options but in the end took Guy due to his experience that would fit the standards and ambitions of Al Wasl.

"With his CV, we felt he was the right coach for us right now."

Lacombe, born in southern France in June 1955, was something of a nomad as a player, the striker's 14-year career taking in Nantes, Lens, Toulouse, Rennes, Lille and, finally, Cannes.

A championship winner's medal was collected at Nantes in 1977, while seven years later Lacombe would form part of the national team that sealed Olympic gold at the Los Angeles Games.

If his attitude then still persists, a Wasl defence that last Saturday was breached five times at Al Ain faces an increased workload.

"He didn't like it when we conceded goals and lost points," said Gilles Morisseau, the Wasl assistant who as a goalkeeper played alongside Lacombe at Cannes. The pair will reprise their working relationship until the end of the season.

"Football is a universal language, you can adapt wherever you go. But Guy's experience speaks for itself and will be of added value to the team. I trust the management's decision will benefit the club. Everything is quite clear of what needs to be done by Guy and myself."

Lacombe said he has not yet seen Wasl in action, but would cast a careful eye over training last night.

"My answer to the Al Wasl fans will be on the pitch, through the team and through achieving positive results," he said. "The Al Wasl colours remind me of the first team I won a trophy with. This is a very good sign. I hope to repeat that with Al Wasl."

Wasl, having redrafted their plans, will share those aspirations.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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