x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Proud Al Nasr will have to wait to end barren spell

With the recent changes at board and playing level, it seems unlikely Al Nasr will end their 26-year wait to win another league title.

Al Nasr rightfully are proud of being the oldest football club in the nation. They trace their history to 1945, making the Dubai side 26 years older than the country they call home.

Nasr are far less likely to make note of another fairly remarkable historical note. To wit: they have not won the league since 1986.

Every other "big" club in the country has won the league since Nasr's last championship, and all but Al Jazira have won it at least twice.

Perhaps it is the discomfort of that 25-year dry spell that has made the club particularly twitchy during a slow start to both the Pro League and Etisalat Cup seasons.

After one draw from three league matches, and four Cup points from four matches, Nasr last week changed out the attacking half of their foreign contingent, jettisoning the Ecuadoran striker Carlos Tenorio and parking the Guinean forward Ismail Bangoura, who is serving a three-match suspension for dissent.

The club signed the Ivorian striker Amare Diane, late of the Qatari side Al Gharafa, and brought back the Brazilian forward Rodrigo "Careca" Vergilio, who scored six goals in 10 league games last term.

Certainly, Nasr had been struggling in the attack; they had one goal in three league games, four in four Cup matches. But replacing their strikers in the first week of November was abrupt, even by UAE standards.

Those are not the only changes at the club. Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, the club president, is now also the chairman, and several members of the board recently were changed out.

The impatience at Nasr may also reflect hopes, probably misguided, that the club could contend for the league championship this year.

Nasr were third last season, their best finish in a decade, but their points total of 35 still left them closer to relegation than a championship, the fifth consecutive season they were closer to 11th than first.

The high finish also brought with it a new challenge - a place in the 2012 Asian Champions League. Nasr have never played in the continental club championship, and for the first seven weeks they surely did not look like one of Asia's elite sides.

Nasr defeated Dubai 2-1 in the league last week, with the Australian midfielder Mark Bresciano scoring the decisive goal, and that seemed to settle nerves a bit.

The man at the heart of the operation, the coach Walter Zenga, is still thought to be in a precarious position. That will not come as a surprise to the former Italy national goalkeeper, given his experience in the region, including an abbreviated spell with Al Ain in 2007.

Zenga took over at Nasr during the 2010/11 break and led a side that had been 5-1-5 in the first half to 5-3-2 in the second. Bangoura was key in that uptick, as was Abdullah Mousa, the bearded goalkeeper.

Zenga's is not a side widely admired for their depth of talent, particularly among their nationals. Of the 25 Emiratis called in for the World Cup qualifier with South Korea tomorrow, only one, Ali Abbas, plays for Nasr. Meanwhile, Al Ahli sent four players, Jazira five and Al Wahda six.

Zenga has called into question the professionalism of his nationals. "We want professionalism and professional players; we want the foreign players to come and improve the locals, we want the coaches to do that. My question is, when will the local players take this responsibility?"

Nasr, then, is particularly dependent on its foreigners, the midfielders Leonardo Lima and Bresciano and the two new strikers.

A first league title since 1986, or a first President's Cup since 1989, are not impossible. But at the moment they seem unlikely.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae


Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Paul Oberjuerge on @PaulOberjuerge