x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Why can’t Arabian Gulf League clubs hold their fire?

Trigger-happy football teams in the UAE continue seasonal trend of dismissing coaches before they have implemented their ideas, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Jorge Fossati was dismissed by Al Ain even before they played their first league match. Satish Kumar / The National
Jorge Fossati was dismissed by Al Ain even before they played their first league match. Satish Kumar / The National
Not for the first time, the Arabian Gulf League’s coaching carousel is running full tilt. Before the 10th round of matches were played, half of the 14 clubs in the league had already changed managers. It represents the biggest cull, in terms of clubs involved, since the league became fully professional in 2008/09.

The previous record, if that is the best term, over the first nine rounds of league play was five changes.

Last season was comparatively quiet early, as only three clubs changed managers before the ninth round. Six managers lasted the entire season, an unprecedented rate of retention.

Only two of them are still at the same club, however – Al Shabab’s Marcos Paqueta and Ajman’s Abdulwahab Abdulqadir.

Cosmin Olaroiu (Al Ahli), Quique Sanchez Flores (Al Ain) and Walter Zenga (Al Jazira) have switched clubs, while Rene Marsiglia (Dubai) has left these shores.

Sanchez Flores and Zenga, of course, did not start the season as managers and are among the seven replacements named thus far. The other five clubs with new coaches are Al Wahda, Al Wasl, Al Shaab, Emirates and Dubai.

In the case of Shaab, the management was probably justified in looking for a change. Marius Sumudica’s team had only four points from nine games and, given the trigger-happy club officials in the UAE, Shaab were actually patient, given those results.

Even last year, they persisted with Sergio Alexandre for 13 weeks, though he managed to add only one point to the six they had earned from the first three games. Sumudica then arrived and claimed 18 points in the second half of the season to save the team from relegation.

Shaab will be hoping Sumudica’s replacement can do the same. Their experience suggests changes do work, at times. It worked for Al Nasr in 2010/11. Starting the season with Helios dos Anjos, they had six points from their first five league games when the Brazilian was shown the exit.

Eid Baroot, then the Under 17 national coach, was given leave by the Football Association to work for three months at the Dubai club and his six-match reign was worth 10 points. Zenga, one of the world’s elite goalkeepers in the 1990s, took over and added 19 more points, thanks to four consecutive wins at the end, to help the team finish third. That was the first time Nasr figured in the top three since 1999/2000.

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Change can help if you bring in someone like Sanchez Flores, who helped lay the foundations of the formidable Ahli team. Hector Cuper, if early impressions are an indication, could have a similar impact at Wasl, if the management show some faith and patience.

Sir Alex Ferguson did not win the top-tier league title until his seventh season at Manchester United. Ahli finished fifth in Sanchez Flores’s first season and runners-up in his second, but the Spaniard did win the Etisalat Cup in 2012 and the President’s Cup last season.

Ajman’s persistence with Abdulqadir, the Iraqi, also paid off last season, when he led the team to their first domestic silverware – the Etisalat Cup, winning over Jazira. Unlike some of their counterparts in the Arabian Gulf League, Ajman officials have emphasised setting “realistic targets”.

Shabab’s persistence with Paqueta is bearing fruit as well. The Shabab officials were facing calls for his dismissal from angry fans after a disappointing start to his reign last season, when the team had five points from their first eight league matches. Then they reeled off eight consecutive victories.

This season, despite losing players such as Ciel and Walid Abbas, they are only a point behind leaders Ahli on the league table, and Paqueta has been given a three-year extension.

Sharjah are keen to follow the same model after spending a year in the lower division. Their last season in the top tier, 2011/12, was a disaster. The Portuguese coach Carlos Azenha decided to return home before the season started, and the Romanian Valeriu Tita was sacked after getting seven points from the first seven games.

They won only four points from the remaining 15 matches, with Jorvan Vieira (five league matches, two points), Tita again (five more matches, one point) and Abdulmajeed Al Nimr (five matches, one point) taking turns in the hot seat.

Dubai looked an even greater mess that season, with Nestor Clausen sacked before the league had even started, after one league cup game. Umberto Barberis then took his place but was replaced by Ion Marin, who lasted seven league matches, winning two points. Pierre-Andre Schurmann replaced him for a brief time before an extended run for Egyptian Ayman Ramadi saved them from the fall (14 matches, 17 points).

And it is not just the clubs in the bottom half of the points table who have wielded axes. Many of the top clubs have made changes that beggar belief. Last season, Wahda dismissed Branko Ivankovic with only two league matches remaining. This time around, they decided Karel Jarolim, who took the Saudi club Al Ahli to the final of the Asian Champions League last year, was not good enough.

So the Czech was out after six matches and eight points. His replacement, Jose Peseiro, is still looking for his first win in the AGL. Of course, Peseiro cannot be blamed when half his team is on the injury list, but Jarolim faced the same problems.

One of the most confusing changes of recent years was Al Jazira’s decision to sack Paulo Bonamigo last season. The Brazilian was dismissed hours after leading the team to a commanding 4-1 win over Al Dhafra on February 21.

Bonamigo did not make a great start to his reign at Jazira, losing the Super Cup to Al Ain and then crashing to a 2-1 defeat at home against Nasr in the league opener. But when the Brazilian was sacked, his team was second in the league standings, six points behind leaders Al Ain.

In the four months preceding his exit, Bonamigo had lost only one of his 19 matches, a 2-1 setback to Wahda in the President’s Cup quarter-final.

Luis Milla, the former Spain Under 21 and U23 coach, was brought in as Bonamigo’s replacement and Jazira gained one point from the following four league games, finishing third.

Milla had 12 points from nine league matches last season, six of them coming from victories over Kalba and Shaab. The club management, however, were confident he was the man to lead them into the 2013/14 season, but that confidence lasted five league matches, when Milla was replaced by Zenga.

So what did Jazira achieve by sacking Bonamigo? Nothing, except a false impression of decisive leadership. And there seems to be plenty of that floating around.

Some numbers

104 Number of coaching changes clubs have made in UAE football since 2008/09

78 Men who have coached in the league since 2008/09

74 Number of coaching changes made in mid-season

5-plus Seasons of a fully professional UAE top flight

0 Championships for clubs who changed coaches during a season