x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pro League: Quique Sanchez Flores bids emotional farewell to Al Ahli

No replacement has been named yet even as Spaniard opts to leave Dubai after having guided club to Etisalat Cup and President's Cup titles, reports John McAuley.

Quique Sanchez Flores, the Al Ahli coach, was expected to sign a two-year extension. Pawan Singh / The National
Quique Sanchez Flores, the Al Ahli coach, was expected to sign a two-year extension. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // Abdullah Al Naboodah, the Al Ahli chairman, says the club face a tough job finding a manager good enough to replace Quique Sanchez Flores, after the Spaniard announced on Tuesday he was leaving his role.

The decision not to extend his 19-month reign at the Rashid Stadium came as a surprise to the gathered media, as it had been widely accepted Sanchez Flores had committed to a two-year contract.

However, now the club begin their search for a capable replacement, with Al Naboodah conceding it represents an unenviable task.

"Top managers are not easy to hire," he said. "Good managers, there's a lot of them, but top managers are not easy to find - you can see how small the list is.

"It won't be easy to replace Quique. He's probably the only coach to set foot in the Gulf region with a continental trophy from Europe [the 2010 Uefa Europa League]. But it's his decision."

Al Naboodah described as "far-fetched" the possibility of promoting someone from within the club.

Fabio Cannavaro, Ahli's technical consultant, is believed to be interested in moving into coaching.

The chairman said he had done everything to persuade Sanchez Flores, 48, to stay.

"We tried our best to retain Quique, but it was up to him," Al Naboodah said. "We haven't anyone lined up. It'll take us a few days to draw up our shortlist."

Sanchez Flores's inclination to spend no more than two years at one club has been cited as his reason for terminating the relationship.

He never exceeded that period at Getafe, Valencia, Benfica or Atletico Madrid, although he was expected to remain at Ahli following a fine season in which they finished runners-up in the Pro League and secured the President's Cup.

"Of course we're disappointed," Al Naboodah said.

"Quique has done an extremely good job with the improvement of the team and of the players as individuals. His footballing expertise is undoubted. But life goes on and we have to pick someone who can continue Quique's work and not start from scratch. We don't go for nationalities. The most important thing is someone with a proven track record, and we'd look at style of play. We're a team that wants to play offensive football."

For Sanchez Flores, his exit seemed a difficult one.

The former Valencia full-back had enjoyed his time at Ahli, promptly reviving the club's league fortunes after replacing Ivan Hasek in November 2011 - they finished fifth in 2011/12 - before guiding them to that season's Etisalat Cup crown.

He appeared visibly emotional during his final news conference and, following a brief explanation, stated he would not accept questions from the crowded media centre.

"It's a very sad day for me," Sanchez Flores said.

"After two years of working together, it's the moment to say thank you, to say goodbye. I'm really, really sad, because I've had to take in a lot of emotions these past two seasons.

"But I have a rule in my career that two years is my limit, so I feel this is the moment to leave. The biggest thanks goes to the players. They've shown they're amazing professionals who want to improve, who fight with heart until the last minute of the last game. I've learnt when you have success it's the moment to say thank you and let another coach continue. The club is the most important thing, above anyone else."

There should be no shortage of options for Sanchez Flores, as his stock remains high in Europe.

He has repeatedly been linked with a return to Spain's Primera Liga.

However, when asked if his former employee had been approached by another club, Al Naboodah replied: "With Quique's calibre, he'll always have offers from Europe. But in terms of him giving an indication, no."

Al Naboodah added no signings would be made until they have identified Sanchez Flores's successor, although he did confirm he expected Ricardo Quaresma, the Portuguese winger, to leave "in the near future".


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