Former Chelsea right-back Dan Petrescu will arrive in Dubai today to take over at Arabian Gulf League strugglers Al Nasr following the dismissal of Ivan Jovanovic.
Former Romania international Petrescu, 48, had been in line for the role prior to Serbian Jovanovic taking the helm at Al Maktoum Stadium in June 2013, with a €12 million (Dh60m) release clause in his contract at Dynamo Moscow proving a stumbling block three years ago.
But the Blue Wave took to Twitter yesterday to announce that Jovanovic had been sacked and an agreement reached with former Jiangsu Suning and Al Arabi coach Petrescu to replace him following an atrocious start to the season.
The nightmare unfolded after a 3-0 first leg AFC Champions League quarter-final triumph against Qatar’s El Jaish in August was reversed following the revelation that summer signing Wanderley had been playing with a “forged or falsified” Indonesian passport.
Since then Nasr have gone on to lose six of their next 10 games in all competitions, including four in a row in the AGL, to lie ninth.
Friday’s 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Al Wahda was the final straw and 54-year-old Jovanovic was given his marching orders yesterday.
“Dan Petrescu will arrive in Dubai today and will be taking charge of training,” Nasr press officer Mohamed Mubarak told Sport360, adding that the 95-times capped defender will be officially unveiled at a press conference on Tuesday.
“The board took the decision to sack Ivan Jovanovic following a lot of meetings to discuss the club’s poor form in the league in recent weeks.
“During those meetings the board made a decision that Ivan Jovanovic could not continue to achieve the league objectives of the board this season.
“Another meeting took place with the coach following the Al Wahda defeat, in which the situation was discussed with the coach, and a decision was taken today after last night’s result.”
It’s a sad end to what had been a largely fruitful stint at Nasr for two-time former APOEL supremo Jovanovic.
He ended a 25-year trophy drought at Al Maktoum Stadium in May 2014 when he led the Blue Wave to the GCC Club Cup with a 4-2 aggregate win in the final against Oman’s Saham.
He followed that with an Arabian Gulf Cup and President’s Cup-double a year later – Nasr beating Sharjah 4-1 and Al Ahli 3-0 on penalties respectively.
Jovanovic is reportedly a candidate to replace UAE boss Mahdi Ali if a poor result in the Whites’ 2018 World Cup qualifier against Iraq next month leads to his sacking.
Clarets talisman Sebastian Tagliabue netted a hat-trick but the game hinged on a controversial decision by referee Sultan Abdurazzaq not to award the Blue Wave a clear penalty just past the hour mark after Rim Chang-woo handled in the box.
It was obvious to the Nasr bench, who had seen their side equalise six minutes earlier. Six minute after Abdurazzaq’s decision the game was over as two goals in three minutes from the hosts killed the game off and ramped up the pressure on coach Ivan Jovanovic, while easing concerns over Aguirre’s future in the capital.
“I’m happy for the fans because they deserve the first win of the season at home,” said the Mexican, who knew the scoreline flattered his side.
“In the score it was 5-1 but it was not that easy, there was not much between the sides and we were 1-1 until 25 minutes to go. It was a tough game.”
The former Atletico Madrid coach was happy with a result that eased the tension after a 2-1 defeat to Al Wasl the previous week.
“The defeat to Al Wasl was terrible,” he added. “We had more than 20 shots, 10 corner kicks and crossed the ball 15 times. Today the difference was we were really accurate. Five good balls and five goals, three points. Sometimes we are good in front of goal and sometimes we miss. Today we were played a good offensive game.”
Under fire counterpart Jovanovic, meanwhile, apologised for the margin of defeat.
“I want to say sorry for our fans for this result,” said the Serbian. “We had a good 10 minutes after the equaliser and an opportunity to score another which could have changed the game. But that didn’t happen and then Wahda scored twice within two minutes that put my players under pressure.
“It was very disappointing result. We are in a difficult position and now we want to see how best we can come out of this situation.”
One goal would have been appreciated by those inside Al Nahyan Stadium after a dire first half, although it was perhaps unsurprising the opening 45 minutes was so dull considering both sides have mustered just two wins from eight games between them prior to kick-off
Neither side seemed willing to overcommit to attacking, for fear they might leave themselves exposed at the back.
A turgid opening half was forgotten less than four minutes into the second period when the hosts broke the deadlock through a familiar hero. Tagliabue was released by right-back Mohammed Al Menhali’s inch-perfect throughball and he kept his cool to clip high into the net beyond Abdullah Mohammed.
The Argentine – last season’s AGL top scorer – should have made it two when Suhail Al Mansoori’s lofted ball found him in space. He rounded Mohammed but his tame shot strike Khalifa Mubarak’s heel.
The visitors made Wahda pay two minutes later when Iraqi striker Mohannad Abdulraheem netted his first goal since arriving from Al Zawra’a, rising to nod Fawaz Awana’s pin-pont cross beyond Ali Al Hosani.
The came the key moment. South Korea international Rim ushered the ball out for a corner with his arm but the official was unmoved.
Abdulraheem had a second goal rightly ruled out for offside but Wahda restored their lead when Tagliabue glanced in Balasz Dzsudzsak’s cross.
Three minutes later the Hungarian, who’s had a tough start to life in the Emirates, slid in to net from left-back Ahmed Rashid’s cross.
It was his second goal in two games and his relief was obvious as he high-fived every single member of the home bench.
Al Hosani palmed away Abdelaziz Barrada’s fine effort before Wahda sealed the win in style.
Reigning AGL Young Player of the Year Mohamed Al Akbari collected Tagliabue’s flick-on before powering down the line and delivering a brilliant cross for the Argentine to head home his hat-trick goal.
The youngster completed a fine cameo when he raced onto Jorge Valdivia’s pass and fired beyond Mohammed to make it a mauling.
Victory and the margin of it is sure to act as a confidence-booster after a 2-1 defeat to Al Wasl a week ago, but the former Atletico Madrid coach wants his players to use the Blue Wave walloping as a springboard rather than an excuse to ease up.
“We are out of the bad results but we still need to win three or four games. We still have problems,” said Aguirre, whose side travel to Sharjah on Wednesday.
“Normally with the three points the week is different, you can relax. Fortunately for us we have a game on Wednesday so there’s no room to relax. I hope, not for me, but the pressure is lifted for the players. They deserve to have the pressure relieved and the three points.”
Aguirre has been around football for many years, so is used to the harsh glare of the spotlight when things are not going his way and speculation surrounding his job – of which there has been plenty in recent weeks following a below par start to the 2016/17 season.
Criticism of his team during a testing start, however, and low morale led the Mexican to worry about the mental health of his young players, such as 2015/16 Arabian Gulf League Young Player of the Season, Mohamed Al Akbari.
“I’m an old man, I know how this game works, but I have young players who can be afraid to play the ball or make mistakes,” said the 57-year-old.
“I understand the rules of the game. For the young players especially it’s important to keep winning or at least playing well. Of course you cannot always win, this is normal, but today this is good for everybody, especially the young players.
“I admit there was pressure, for me and my players, because we were ninth or tenth. The players were tense, it was a tough week, there were many speeches and talk on social media but today we played with big heart and intelligence.”