An unshakeable feeling of unfinished business convinced Ivan Jovanovic to answer the emergency call from Al Nasr – the club who unceremoniously sacked him little more than a year ago.
Jovanovic, 55, has chosen to remain out of work since a sharp downturn in results saw the Blue Wave terminate a three-and-a-half-year tenure in October 2016. His spell there included ending a 25-year trophy drought with the 2014 GCC Club Cup, plus an Arabian Gulf Cup and President’s Cup-double a year later.
The Dubai outfit moved quickly to reappoint him last Friday after they dispensed with the services of ex-Italy tactician Cesare Prandelli because of his inconsistent debut campaign.
“It is certainly a new challenge for me, that is why I am back,” said Jovanovic at his second unveiling on Monday, who has signed up until the end of 2018/19. “We did a lot during my three-and-a-half years.
“I always had a feeling that I did not finish my work here, there was more to be done at Al Nasr.
“Because previously, we won the cups and had a good presence in ACL. But we did not compete for the championship.”
He added: “I am very happy to be back in Al Nasr, again. For the past three-and-a-half years we had a really good cooperation and I am sure we will have the same cooperation in the coming season.”
قرار|— AL NASR FC (@ALNasrSC) January 19, 2018
شركة النصر لكرة القدم تُعلن تعيين الصربي إيفان يوفانوفيتش مُديراً فنياً للفريق الأول لكرة القدم خلفاً للإيطالي تشيزاري برانديلي. pic.twitter.com/G1VuwWa3kP
Jovanovic represented a coup for Nasr when he was originally hired in June 2013 thanks to leading Cypriot minnows APOEL to the quarter-finals of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League.
In Dubai, he had joy in the Cups but never finished higher than fourth in the Arabian Gulf League.
His final months there were tumultuous. A forged passport scandal with new striker Wanderley scuppered a campaign which once promised a historic berth in the 2016 AFC CL’s semi-finals, a 5-1 thrashing at Al Wahda – their seventh reversal in 11 matches – proving terminal to his job prospects.
He has since been linked to – the now merged – Al Shabab, Al Ain and Sharjah. Despite a sorry finale at Nasr, Jovanovic reveals the strength of his connection there made a comeback inevitable once contacted.
He said: “When I left, I left as a friend. It is the only club that any time it invited me to come back, I’d come back.
“If I take over a club, I take over the whole responsibility.”
Caretaker boss Ali Murad is set to oversee Wednesday’s trip to Year of Zayed Arabian Gulf Super Cup winners Wahda.
Nasr are currently a distant sixth in the top flight. Last Wednesday’s round-of-16 elimination in the President’s Cup against lowly Dibba Al Fujairah saw Prandelli dismissed, but they are in next month’s AG Cup quarter-finals – where they meet rivals Al Wasl.
Turning a relegation scrap into President’s Cup glory, winning just a second-ever Arabian Gulf League title in record fashion and then bloodying the nose of European icons Real Madrid on home soil at the Club World Cup.
These landmark achievements during two years at the helm should mean support is not in short supply for Henk ten Cate, unquestionably the finest coach in Al Jazira’s history. Instead, his triumphs have been ‘rewarded’ with the institutional disorder laid bare in the wake of Saturday’s 2-0 reversal to Al Wahda in the Year of Zayed Arabian Gulf Super Cup.
This “serious situation” is “breaking the team in two”, unspoken things “beyond my reach” forcing him to “have a good talk about my future”. It is easy to misconstrue those words as coming from a moment of forlorn weakness, yet this does disservice to Ten Cate’s wide experience and wiles.
At 63 years old and with 18 posts held in eight different countries, he knew what he was doing. A reaction from the board is guaranteed after incendiary remarks that can be summarised as saying: ‘make the Pride of Abu Dhabi worthy of the nickname, or I’m walking.’
It is now up to the leadership to decide whether a return to the chaos that has defined their club for much of its existence is more desirable – or attainable – than acquiescing to Ten Cate’s demands.
Between Abel Braga’s top-flight success of 2010/11 and the current incumbent’s surge to the same trophy in 2016/17, Jazira were often the laughing stock.
Diminishing results under Franky Vercauteren, Caio Junior, Walter Zenga, Eric Gerets and a miserable return for Braga were experienced. An expensively financed four-player foreign quota received equally capricious treatment, most alarmingly choosing to discard Manuel Lanzini on loan to West Ham United in July 2015 for a set permanent fee of just £9 million (Dh51.1m) which proved a snip as the Argentine playmaker excelled in the Premier League.
Grumbles from Ten Cate have been apparent throughout a ramshackle title defence. Ex-France defensive midfielder Lassana Diarra and coveted UAE striker Ahmed Khalil lasted six months or less at their new side before contract disputes forced free transfers.
With neither available for the CWC, the run to the semi-final and late, 2-1 loss to Madrid is the most remarkable result recorded in UAE club football.
Jazira are playing a dangerous game. Only last April, Ten Cate turned down the Netherlands job because the “whole organisation” was not behind him.
You should not toy with a man of principle.
Deflated coach Henk ten Cate has declared he is going to have a “good talk about my future” during the coming days and intimated about the widely-rumoured internal discord at fallen top-flight kings Al Jazira, in the wake of a 2-0 Year of Zayed Arabian Gulf Super Cup loss to Al Wahda.
Ten Cate, 63, has performed miracles since he joined the then-relegation-threatened Pride of Abu Dhabi in December 2015. A first President’s Cup since 2011/12 was delivered at the end of that season, this being followed up by a record-breaking run to the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League’s title.
But this term has been detailed by reported problems within the club, evidenced, in part, by the bitter contractual dispute which last week saw UAE hot shot Ahmed Khalil exit to rivals Al Ain on a free transfer six months since his heralded recruitment.
When quizzed about the reasons behind Saturday night’s chastening reversal, the ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant replied: “It is difficult to speak.
“I am not the person to speak about this. But it is like asking a question you already know.
“I smile again. But I cannot continue saying these things.
“It’s like a gramophone, the needle sticks in one place.
“It is the same story, over and over again. I am really serious now.
“I am going to have a good talk about my future.”
This response followed an initial benign probing into the result. This delivered an excoriating – and scarcely disguised – response.
He said: “Do you have a week? It is up to them now.
“The lack of communication to the public creates wrong expectations, this is what happened. This is not for me to say.
“It is not my job to talk about it. I said so many times that things are beyond my reach, beyond my control – I said this a lot of times.”
Jazira are a distant fifth in the AGL, 11 points off the pace. They are next scheduled to host minnows Dibba Al Fujairah on Wednesday.