There is a new Boss in town…
Ex-Porto centre-back Pedro Emanuel inked a contract on Saturday to lead Al Ain, the UAE’s most-decorated club, until the end of 2020/21. The 44-year-old has taken over a side who floundered out of the starting blocks under former Croatia midfielder Ivan Leko and now sit a distant fifth in the Arabian Gulf League, following Thursday’s 2-1 defeat to leaders Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
What can the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium faithful expect from their fourth permanent tactician since January 2019, plus someone Jose Mourinho described in October as “The Special One”?
Emanuel blipped on Al Ain’s radar last summer after a historic season at Saudi Arabia’s Al Taawoun.
The Angola-born, ex-Portugal Under-21 international led the unfancied minnows to third place in the Saudi Professional League and attained the King’s Cup. These landmark successes represented their highest top-flight finish, plus a first major trophy in 64 years of existence.
Detailed negotiations, however, between the parties would falter.
Emanuel, instead, headed to Turki Al Sheikh’s big-spending Almeria in the Segunda Division and the Boss turned towards Club Brugge’s Leko. Neither prospered.
Emanuel made way for Real Madrid legend Guti in November, even though his club were second. Leko’s methodical methods jarred with the squad and December 19’s 2-1 home defeat to Al Dhafra proved terminal after less than six months in charge.
In Emanuel, Al Ain are hiring a figure who gained a ferocious reputation as a defender during a glorious spell at Porto from 2002-09. UEFA Cup and Champions League victories in 2003 and 2004 under Mourinho were the highlight.
An apprenticeship as a coach would be served upon retirement, first with Porto’s Under-17s and then as an assistant under Andre Villas-Boas.
Results have been mixed since striking out on his own in June 2011.
This debut campaign would see Academica de Coimbra earn a first Taca de Portugal since 1939 and narrowly avoid relegation. Cypriot Cup and Cypriot Super Cups triumphs at Apollon Limasol would be, ungratefully, followed by the sack in December 2016.
FC Arouca hung on in Portugal’s top flight from June 2013-May 2015, while he’d exit Estoril in last spot after seven, largely miserable, months during October 2017.
Al Ain declared they’d examined the CVs of more than 30 coaches before they settled on Emanuel – and this diligence search appears meritorious.
A key issue this term has been the stranding of €5.3 million summer addition Caio Canedo on the wing. The 29-year-old Brazilian forward, however, will again take centre stage in the 4-4-2 formation deployed by Emanuel in Portugal, Cyprus and Saudi Arabia.
This means 10-goal AGL top marksman Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba will have a foil to play off. The results could be explosive, even though Al Ain are already the competition’s second-highest scorers on 27.
Togo striker Laba’s proficiency in the air will be further aided by an extensive use of crossing through bold wingers and daring full-backs. Taawoun produced the third most in the 2018/19 SPL, according to Wyscout.
No-one profited more from this cross-centric approach than Cameroon centre forward Leandre Tawamba. A tally of 27 strikes in 34 run-outs under Emanuel represented, by a distance, the grandest return of his career.
Hold an important meeting with all the players..— Al Ain FC - EN (@alainfcae_en) January 4, 2020
Pedro Emanuel: My goal is to win all matches with "The Boss"
We are required to redouble efforts and work hard
Proud of being part of @alainfcae, the biggest UAE club #alainclub pic.twitter.com/r75DEOb9Df
Under Paulo Sergio’s new regime at Taawoun, he’s notched only three times in 14 fixtures.
A hardened edge should also be applied to Al Ain’s porous defence. They’ve been breached 10 more times than pacesetting Shabab Al Ahli (15/5).
Taawoun made the most fouls in 2018/19 and ranked second for challenge intensity. Their third-best passes allowed per defensive action further highlighted the intensity of Emanuel’s pressing system.
The formation is different from the 4-2-3-1 favoured by recent legends Zlatko Dalic and Zoran Mamic. Yet shared philosophies (dominant no9s, high press, plenty of crosses) make Emanuel an apt fit.
ON THE AGENDA
Emanuel’s trophy winning pedigree will immediately be tested in Friday’s Arabian Gulf Cup semi-final versus Alvaro Negredo’s on-song Al Nasr.
A fortnight’s pause will then allow review of his options for the winter transfer market, plus time to refocus rested minds ahead of January 23’s top-flight resumption at promoted – and winless – Khor Fakkan.
Either Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor or Iraq’s Al Zawraa await in January 28’s demanding 2020 AFC Champions League play-off. AGL holders Sharjah then come to town on February 7.
There is, clearly, no time to wait.
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