Al Nasr expect ex-Roma, Fiorentina and Italy boss Cesare Prandelli to officially join them next week, with the club immediately looking to the future after chastening defeat in the President’s Cup final.
A miserable 2016/17 for the Blue Wave ended with a 3-0 defeat to Al Wahda at a boiling Zayed Sports City on Friday night. This was the final engagement for Romanian tactician Dan Petrescu, whose seven-month deal expires imminently.
Speaking to Al Ittihad newspaper in the bowels of the stadium in Abu Dhabi, chairman Humaid Al Tayer revealed an agreement was close with the 56-year-old who led the Azzurri to second place at Euro 2012.
He said: “We reached an agreement with Prandelli by 95 per cent. The coach arrives next week to sign the contract and be presented at a press conference.”
Prandelli has been out of work since he resigned in December after only three months at La Liga-outfit Valencia.
This continued a chequered return to club management after leading his nation from 2010-14. In 2014, he lasted only 147 days at Turkish giants Galatasaray.
But the ex-Juventus midfielder previously gained a strong reputation when named Serie A Coach of the Year in 2007/08 when at the Viola.
If confirmed, Prandelli will become the second Italian to boss the Blue Wave. Ex-Internazionale goalkeeper Walter Zenga was in charge from January 2011-June 2013.
His prospective club finished an underwhelming sixth this season in the Arabian Gulf League.
Balazs Dzsudzsak wrote his name into Al Wahda’s history as his second-half brace helped ensure a deserved President’s Cup final victory against 10-man Al Nasr.
The Hungary winger slotted home a rebound after his penalty – from which right-back Masoud Sulaiman received his marching orders – was saved and fired a swerving rocket from 25 yards, either side of fellow summer buy Tariq Ahmed’s tap into an empty goal.
The Blue Wave put in a ramshackle display, making their public intention in the aftermath to replace Dan Petrescu with ex-Italy tactician Cesare Prandelli eminently understandable.
In contrast, Friday night’s triumph ended the Clarets’ 17-year wait to claim the UAE football’s most-cherished competition for a second time. It also guaranteed that coach Javier Aguirre’s disappointing second, and probably, final season in situ harvested qualification to the 2018 AFC Champions League.
“I want to congratulate Nasr for reaching the final, but unfortunately there’s only one Cup and we were lucky tonight,” said the Mexican.
“I have a meeting with the club president after tomorrow and we’ll see what happens. I have had some offers from China and in America, but I didn’t commit myself.”
There was no such recompense for fellow underachievers Nasr. They failed to create a chance of note, even with scandal-addled striker Wanderley back in their XI after injury.
Petrescu spoke afterwards like a man aware of his fate.
He said: “It’s one of the worst days of my life as a coach. We didn’t have to lose like this.
“Some small moments changed the game for us.”
With Zayed Sports City less than half full – a noticeable drop on preceding editions – and the mercury pushing 35°C, the omens were not good for a gripping contest.
Wahda’s versatile South Korea centre-back Rim Chang-woo tried his luck from 30 yards in one of few notable moments from a soporific opening. Argentine striker Sebastian Tagliabue then blazed over for them from a fumble when his 32nd goal of the campaign appeared certain.
The Clarets faithful were finally brought to their feet past the hour mark. Clumsy Nasr defender Sulaiman felled Tagliabue twice and handballed, leaving referee Yaqoub Qasem with no choice but to point to the spot and deliver a second yellow.
Occasional UAE reserve goalkeeper Ahmed Shambieh pushed the ensuing low effort onto his right post, though this left an open goal for the Magyar to gratefully tap into.
Nasr had stumbled into a second showpiece in three years, failing to win their final trio of Arabian Gulf League matches as they limped home sixth – three points and one place behind Wahda.
Merited defeat was guaranteed when centre-back Mubarak Saeed errantly cleared match-changing substitute Khalil Ibrahim’s cross to thankful winger Ahmed and Dzsudzsak – for a respectable 15th strike in 35 games since being acquired from Turkey’s Bursaspor – memorably sealed it with an unstoppable long-range effort.
The wave of mergers sweeping the Arabian Gulf League has seen the competition reduced from 14 teams to 12 for 2017/18.
A UAE Football Association board meeting decided on the change on Wednesday night, in reaction to Tuesday’s shock series of amalgamations.
This followed a surprise decree from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, which saw Al Shabab, Al Ahli and promoted Dubai CSC become Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
Later that day, a similar edict from Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, sovereign ruler of Sharjah, created Sharjah Cultural Club from Sharjah and second division Al Shaab.
The decision to return to 12 teams for the first time since 2011/12 will be evaluated before the end of next term. A draw to set the new fixtures will be held at the UAE FA’s headquarters on Monday, replacing a now voided ceremony from a week earlier.
Sheikh Mohammed received SAADC’s chairman, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and committee members yesterday to discuss details about the switch.