x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sanchez Flores' future at Ahli may hinge on Etisalat Cup final

The Spaniard has hinted that victory tonight against Al Shabab will sway his decision to remain in Dubai.

Quique Sanchez Flores will lead Al Ahli in the Etisalat Cup final tonight.
Quique Sanchez Flores will lead Al Ahli in the Etisalat Cup final tonight.

DUBAI // Quique Sanchez Flores has indicated that his decision on whether to accept a contract extension at Al Ahli could be tied to the result of tonight's Etisalat Cup final against Al Shabab.

Ahli are keen to hold on to the Spaniard, who has been courted by some of Europe's top clubs since his arrival in Dubai in November to replace Ivan Hasek.

Ahli have reportedly offered Sanchez Flores a €1.2 million (Dh5.6m) deal to stay on next season. According to club sources, the former Valencia, Benfica and Atletico Madrid coach has given his preliminary approval to the new contract, but wants to wait until after tonight's game before making his final decision.

Sanchez Flores himself has described the cup final as crucial to his future at the club and a victory over Shabab could see him sign on the dotted line.

"For me, this final is really important for my work here in the UAE," Sanchez Flores said yesterday at the pre-match media briefing. "I have come here to create something different and I want us to finish the season in the best possible way. For this to happen, we need to win this final.

"I want to win this title for the club, for our players who have worked really hard in the last seven months. I want to win because it is very important for our work, our future and our happiness."

Sanchez Flores has been in the Ahli dugout for 18 of their 21 Pro League matches this season, winning eight of them, including the last four, and losing six. The team are seventh in the table.

Their campaign in the President's Cup lasted only one game, a 4-0 defeat against Al Wasl. Ahli, however, got their revenge over Diego Maradona's men by defeating them 1-0 in the Etisalat Cup semi-final, although the result was marred by ugly scenes at the end that saw Majed Naser, the Wasl goalkeeper, banned for 17 matches for slapping Sanchez Flores on the back of the head.

Having lost to Shabab in the GCC Clubs' Championship final in November, Ahli have a similar score to settle against Paulo Bonamigo's men. Having won the first leg of that final 3-2, they lost 2-0 in the second and the defeat cost Hasek his job. Sanchez Flores is aware of that result, but said his team is a different proposition now.

"For me, that game does not matter," he said. "It was too far back and I was not even here. It has been eight months since that game and I believe we are a different team now. The confidence of the players is at a different level and I am sure this final will be different to the last one.

"We have a lot of respect for the Shabab team; they have been doing well every season. But we cannot take the pitch thinking about them or the past matches. We have to look at the tools we have and how best we can utilise them. We need to play like this is the most important game of the season for us."

Grafite, Ahli's Brazilian striker, remembers that defeat well, but echoed his coach's views on the progress of the squad.

Ahli and Shabab have clashed five times this season and the former Wolfsburg forward has finished on the winning side three times.

"I have a good feeling about this game," the former Brazil international said. "We lost the GCC title to the same team, but this is a different situation. The players are the same, but the confidence and character of the team is different. I believe we have improved a lot on those fronts.

"So, while we have a lot of respect for Shabab, we will take the pitch confident of playing a good game and winning the title.

"This game is very important for us because we want to end the season on a high. If we can end this season with a trophy, it will open a new window for us in the next season. We did not have a good season this time, so it is important we win the Etisalat Cup and then carry the confidence into the next season."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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