Al Nasr have sacked coach Ivan Jovanovic for a second time after a mixed start to the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League and promoted title-winning former Brazil Under-17 coach Caio Zanardi to be his replacement.
Jovanovic, 56, was brought back to the Blue Wave last January as replacement for ex-Italy tactician Cesare Prandelli. This followed a triumphant previous spell in charge from June 2013-October 2016 that included the end of a 25-year trophy drought with the 2014 GCC Club Cup, plus an Arabian Gulf Cup and President’s Cup-double a season later.
Results have not matched the previous standard, despite the summer recruitment of ex-France midfielder Yohan Cabaye and former Spain striker Alvaro Negredo. Their first four top-flight matches in 2018/19 ended in defeat, while Friday’s terminal 1-0 reversal at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club left the big-spending club 10th.
Zanardi, 45, has now been moved up from technical director – a position he has held there in two periods. His previous jobs include winning the 2013 Toulon Tournament with a Brazil U-17 squad that featured now Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson.
“I extend my sincere thanks and appreciation to Ivan Jovanovic,” said Nasr president Abdulrahman Obaid. “I also extend my best wishes to Caio Zanardi, the new coach of our first team.
“To all lovers and fans of the club, we will soon return to our natural position among the top clubs.”
Zanardi held his first training session on Sunday, ahead of promoted side Fujairah’s visit to Dubai on Tuesday in the AGL.
Al Jazira’s caretaker boss Damien Hertog was thrilled from “all different angles” after the Arabian Gulf League’s new joint-leaders battered Emirates Club 6-0.
A trademark hat-trick from UAE hot shot Ali Mabkhout – that included a comically effortless chip – and a trio of his own from assist-king Khalfan Mubarak saw relegation-threatened opponents ruthlessly put to the sword at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. This result, allied with Sharjah’s 1-1 draw at Al Wasl and Al Ain’s 4-0 dispatching of Dibba Al Fujairah, created a three-way tie at the top.
This emphatic scoreline also put the Pride of Abu Dhabi first in the scoring charts, plus continued the positive strides made in last week’s impressive 2-1 derby win at Al Wahda.
“I am very delighted with the performance,” said Hertog, whose won both top-flight matches since fellow Dutchman Marcel Keizer was poached by Sporting Lisbon after only five months in charge. “I give big compliments to my team.
“After big games, we had dropped points against teams that are lower in the league. This time, we succeeded in the mission to get the three point – well deserved, obviously.
“There was some very good attacking play and very nice goals. They showed their great football.
“All compliments to the team. It also gives you an opportunity when 4-0 up to give other players, who work hard in training during the week, a chance with the team.
“From all different angles, I am very delighted with this game.”
Mabkhout and Mubarak are fuelling an unlikely title charge by Jazira.
The former overtook Sharjah’s Welliton at the top of the scoring charts, moving onto 13 goals in 11 run-outs. Mubarak’s solitary assist on Friday night was his ninth of the campaign – three more than anyone else.
These emphatic displays are a contrast to 2017/18’s woeful title defence, when off-the-field issues bled into the results.
Despite a promising opening few months, Hertog is not taking anything for granted.
“We never spoke about competing for the title, so far,” said the ex-Feyenoord Under-19s tactician. “We speak about playing well and playing our game.
“If we want to be a big team, you have to win the games against the bigger teams and the smaller teams. If you can keep on doing this, still unbeaten in the league, then we can take it all the way.”
Hertog has carried on the fine work started by Keizer in the capital. With no announcement made about a permanent successor to the former, is the status quo likely to remain for the rest of 2018/19?
“No, no news,” he replied, while laughing, when asked about an extended stay. “It’s a quick answer.”
Jazira next travel to third-bottom Al Dhafra on Tuesday.
Round 11 of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK – MARCUS BERG (AL AIN)
Marcus Berg’s starting spot for Sweden remains a topic of great debate, even though a 17-match scoreless streak ended this month.
In the Garden City, however, there are no complaints.
The centre forward moved onto nine goals in 10 AGL matches this term with his brace – plus an assist – in the 4-0 humbling of bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah.
GOAL OF THE WEEK – ALI MABKHOUT (AL JAZIRA)
Fresh evidence emerged this round of the undeniable thesis that Mabkhout has outgrown the Arabian Gulf League.
The second goal of his hat-trick in the 6-0 rout of lowly Emirates Club was a portrait of utter nonchalance.
The UAE star won the ball out wide, skipped past several defenders and fathomed a delightful chip when no goal chance appeared on. Domestic dominance with no fuss.
COACH OF THE WEEK – AL HAY JUMA (AL WAHDA)
‘Stalwart’ does not do justice to Juma’s service at the Clarets.
He skippered the club to repeat success during 15 years as a player. Now, the long-term backroom staff member has a shot at the No1 role on a temporary basis.
His debut saw a five-match top-flight winless streak snapped in a hard-fought 2-1 win at Ajman.
TALKING POINT – FALCONS BROUGHT DOWN TO EARTH
Emirates Club’s continued survival in the top flight has represented a football miracle, with the margins shrinking since 2015/16.
They have it all to do again this season after a 6-0 humbling at Jazira exposed their limitations and kept them inside the drop zone.
The Falcons spend little and scrap for every point. But with no relegation play-off this time, you wonder how they can stay up.