x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Sabella takes over from Braga at Al Jazira

Alejandro Sabella, the former Estudiantes manager, has been named as Al Jazira's new coach.

Alejandro Sabella has taken over as manager of Pro League champions Al Jazira.
Alejandro Sabella has taken over as manager of Pro League champions Al Jazira.

ABU DHABI // Al Jazira yesterday confirmed they have signed Alejandro Sabella to a one-year contract as their new coach, replacing Abel Braga.

The deal can be extended if both parties agree at the end of the contract, according to Mohammed al Rumaithi, the chairman of the club’s board of directors.

On May 29, The National reported that Sabella, a 56-year-old former Argentine international, was Jazira’s first choice to replace Braga and talks were under way.

“Talks with the new coach had been going on for some time and once an agreement was reached that suited both parties, the coach flew down to complete the formalities,” al Rumaithi said.

Sabella has some big shoes to fill. Braga, a Brazilian, led the Abu Dhabi club to their first Pro League and President’s Cup titles this season before resigning to return to his homeland to be with his family.

“Obviously we wish the club will have the same success or even more under his [Sabella’s] leadership, although we are aware he has a tough task ahead of him after the club won both the league and the President’s Cup,” al Rumaithi said.

Sabella may face even more expectation, as Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, Jazira’s honorary chairman, has made his intentions clear by saying: “Next will be the Asian Champions League [ACL].”

Jazira have not gone beyond the group stage of the ACL in the three years they have qualified for the continental championship.

Sabella arrived in Abu Dhabi on Thursday and left Friday after signing a contract. He is expected to be back in the UAE at the start of July when the first team squad regroups ahead of their summer camp, which usually takes place in Europe.

Sabella’s first visit to Abu Dhabi was for the 2009 Club World Cup.

He led Estudiantes, the Copa Libertadores champions, to a 2-1 semi-final victory over Pohang Steelers from South Korea at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. His side lost to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona by the same score in extra time in the final at the Zayed Sports City Stadium.

Sabella will have fellow countryman Matias Delgado at his disposal in the Jazira squad.

The move to the UAE also gives him the chance to lock horns again with Argentine national hero Diego Maradona, the new coach of Al Wasl.

As a player, Sabella rose through the ranks at River Plate in the early 1970s and played in Argentina at the same time as Maradona, who turned out for River’s bitter Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors.

Sabella moved to England to join Sheffield United in 1978. The team pursued Sabella, an attacking midfielder, after having a £400,000 (Dh2.41 million) bid for an 18-year-old Maradona rejected.

He returned to Argentina with Estudiantes in 1981, winning back-to-back league championships. Sabella won four caps for his country at the 1983 Copa America but failed to make the cut for the 1986 World Cup squad when Maradona inspired his country to victory in Mexico.

Sabella made his name in coaching as assistant to Daniel Passarella for the Argentine national team, Italian side Parma, the national team of Uruguay, Monterrey of Mexico and Corinthians of Brazil.

The Estudiantes job was Sabella’s first as a head coach. He resigned in February this year.

apassela@thenational.ae