Yo-yo club Ittihad Kalba have ruthlessly given their survival hopes an injection of Serie A knowhow
after they surprisingly drafted in Fabio Viviani and sacked promotion-winning boss Mourad Okbi before the start of the season.
There had been no previous hint that the position of the 50-year-old Tunisian, who guided the Tigers to second place in the First Division League, was under threat ahead of their 2016/17 commitments beginning with Friday’s clash at Al Ain in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Viviani, 49, comes to the AGL after a two-year spell in the backroom staff at Palermo which also saw him temporarily take the reins for one disastrous 4-0 loss to Genoa in the top flight last January. The Italian had previously been assistant coach at Udinese from 2012-14, as well as being in sole charge of Vicenza, Sambonifacese, Portosummaga and Grosseto to mixed results.
“Ittihad Kalba has sacked coach Mourad Okbi,” the club posted on Instagram, as they bid to arrest a spell instantly bouncing between the top-two divisions since promotion was won in 2009/10. “Officially, Ittihad Kalba contracts with coach Fabio Viviani.”
Kalba had previously waited until October to switch coaches during their last two top-flight stays. Croatian Dragan Talajic got the boot at the start of 2012/13 after the first three league matches ended in defeat, with well-travelled Brazilian Vinicius Eutropio being let go during the early stages of 2014/15 when a 3-2 loss to Ajman left his team rooted to the foot of the table.
The call to produce the AGL’s first managerial casualty before the campaign has even begun is reminiscent of Dzemal Hadziabdic making way for Abdulwahab Abdulqadir at then-promoted side Fujairah in September 2014.
رسمياً #إتحاد_كلباء يتعاقد مع المدرب الإيطالي فابيو فيفياني— نادي إتحاد كلباء (@IttihadKalba) August 28, 2016
The bold alterations for Kalba are not set to end with Viviani.
Spanish playmaker Carmelo Gonzalez was dropped from their four-player foreign quota a fortnight ago despite being recruited from Thailand’s Suphanburi in July, with Arabic media subsequently linking them with ex-Dibba Al Fujairah loanee Bakary Kone.
Kalba showed similiar impatience during their last AGL stint during 2014/15, ditching Jordan forward Tha’er Bawab after an underwhelming pre-season. But lethal Burkina Faso striker Yahia Kebe, veteran Iraq centre-back Salam Shaker and prolific Romanian forward Mihai Costea should be retained this time.
In the domestic market, they have also permanently brought in midfielders Mohammed Al Khdeim and Hamad Al Hosani from Ajman, plus Emirates Club defender Eissa Abdullah. Loan deals have
been secured for promising U-21 League top scorer Shaheen Surour from Al Jazira and Al Nasr goalkeeper Ibrahim Al Baloshi.
The former Roma and Juventus hitman has been out of action since last November after tearing his cruciate ligaments and Pride of Abu Dhabi coach Henk ten Cate stated last week that he would not return to the pitch for several months.
“Mirko’s not fit. He’s not going to be fit soon,” said the Dutchman after Jazira’s recent pre-season friendly win over East Riffa.
But Vucinic told Sport360 Friday that he is ahead of schedule and will soon be available for selection, with the fixture in the first Super Cup match to be staged outside of the UAE firmly at the forefront of his mind.
“My injury has got better and I hope I will be ready in a couple of weeks for the Super Cup. My progress has been going well and I’m pleased with where I am after the serious injury.
“The season-opening match gives us the chance to win a trophy that everybody at the club wants us to win and I believe we can do it.”
News of Vucinic’s earlier than expected comeback serves as a major boost for the Abu Dhabi club.
The 32-year-old Montenegrin plundered 25 goals in 23 AGL games during his debut 2014/15 campaign and became an instant fan favourite before injury restricted him to five goals in nine appearances last term.
“Last season was very difficult for me due to my knee injury and missing lots of football but I was happy to see the team lift the President’s Cup trophy,” the three-time Serie A title winner said.
“My first season in Al Jazira was very, very good. I scored lots of goals but unfortunately the team didn’t win anything collectively. Now, I hope to score more goals again and contribute to winning a trophy with this team,” Vucinic said while supporting adidas’ #FirstNeverFollows Grand Finale event at Dubai Sports World.
Vucinic also confirmed that he will fill one spot in the club’s four-man foreign player quota for this coming campaign, joining Mbark Boussoufa and Jefferson Farfan.
But boss Ten Cate still has a decision to make over his fourth selection.
Al Nasr coach Ivan Jovanovic insists his players still “have to suffer” if they are to reach the AFC Champions League’s last-four for the first time despite securing an incredible 3-0 away win at El Jaish.
A brace from summer-buy Wanderley on debut and an excellent skimming drive from Jonathan Pitroipa in Doha ensured the knockout stage debutants are redhot favourites to proceed when the teams reconvene on September 14.
Despite this incredible start to the new season, boss Jovanovic preached that his charges must keep pushing at Al Maktoum Stadium regardless of their three-goal advantage.
He said: “The problem with playing in the quarter-final is the timing, you have to face many elements as you do not know everything about your team.
“It is very difficult for both teams to understand where they are with their performance as there are no official games before this. On the other hand, the target of reaching the semi-final is huge. All of us will have to suffer to be there.”
In front of a sparsely-attended Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium which contained far fewer fans than the official figure of 5,120, the Blue Wave excelled from the off.
Wanderley first tapped into an open goal just before half-time, with Pitroipa slotting into the bottom corner prior to the hour mark. The former-mentioned summer addition from Sharjah then stroked home from close range to send the travelling ‘Nasrawy’ and technical staff into dreamland on 85 minutes.
“Of course it was a very good result for us after a very good game,” added Jovanovic, who previously led Cypriot minnows APOEL into the same stage of the UEFA Champions League. “El Jaish also during the game had some chances but they couldn’t score a goal. But the difference in the game was the time in which we scored the goals.
“It was a difficult game for both teams in very difficult weather conditions. What was most difficult was keeping a good pace throughout the whole game.
“Maybe we have a small advantage from the game. But in Dubai, it will be very decisive for who can go through into the semi-finals. We will face the second game in our home in the same way and we hope during this 15 days we will prepare for an even-better performance.”
Opposite number Sabri Lamouchi was understandably crestfallen during his post-match press conference. This was a huge blow after dominating Group B and blitzing neighbours Lekhiwya in the round of 16.
“I do not know what happened,” the ex-France midfielder said. “We are really disappointed.
“Of course, it is a very-bad result at home. We started not so good, but after half an hour we came back.
“We missed a lot in both halves. Not just the positioning, but a lot of mistakes.
“Nasr scored all their opportunities. We had maybe more opportunities, but this is football.
“It was a very-bad night, game and result. Nothing is impossible in football, but honestly it will not be easy. “We must play with a different attitude and miss less.”