Former Juventus star Paulo Sousa emerges as Al Ain target after abrupt exit of Zoran Mamic

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Portugal great Paulo Sousa has reportedly emerged as an early target for Al Ain after history making coach Zoran Mamic’s painful mid-season departure.

Mamic, 47, thanked the Boss in a lengthy Twitter post for “the amazing memories we made together” and confirmed his wildly successful two-year tenure at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium had come to an abrupt end late on Tuesday, six months before his deal’s expiry. This followed several days of fevered speculation that he will imminently be appointed by Saudi Arabia giants Al Hilal, because of their ongoing failure to get Jorge Jesus to commit his future beyond June.

The ex-Croatia defender, who Al Ain claimed on Wednesday was instead “taking some rest because of the pressures experienced through management”, was poached from Riyadh’s Al Nassr in February 2017. He would go on to secure a club-first Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup double last May, plus heroically lead the Boss to a 4-1 defeat against Real Madrid in December’s Club World Cup showpiece in Abu Dhabi.

Portuguese newspaper A Bola stated that Sousa, 48, “has a chance to train” the Garden City-outfit. The well-travelled ex-Juventus and Borussia Dortmund midfielder has been out of work since a mutual departure was negotiated with China’s Tianjin Quanjian in October, after less than a year in charge.

August’s sale of influential Belgium centre midfielder Axel Witsel to BVB sparked a slide that saw Sousa oversee a potential relegation fight. Tianjin did, however, make the AFC Champions League quarter-finals under him.

Sousa reportedly this week rejected the chance to succeed Aitor Karanka at the Championship’s Nottingham Forest.

The suave tactician made his name at Queens Park Rangers, Swansea City and Leicester City at the turn of the decade. But he failed to gain promotion to the Premier League at all three, prior to embarking on a nomadic run of clubs.

This period included winning trophies at Hungary’s Videoton and Switzerland’s Basel.

If Sousa does come in at Al Ain, he’ll take over a side temporarily led by ex-Borussia Monchengladbach defender Zeljko Sopic and Ahmed Abdullah.

In a boost for the Boss, they have successfully untangled the complex contractual situation of playmaker Ruben Ribeiro and registered him as replacement for Egypt’s Hussein El Shahat in their four-player foreign quota for the second half of the campaign.

Ribeiro, 31, was one of seven Sporting Lisbon footballers to terminate his contract last June because of a training ground assault by ultras. But this status as a free agent was challenged by the Portuguese giants, preventing him playing in the CWC.

The apparent breakthrough means he will slot in for El Shahat, following last month’s $5 million sale to Al Ahly.

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