The potent effect of presidential election season was, seemingly, keenly felt by vocal sections of Al Hilal’s demanding faithful.
A glamorous battle for the vacancy at the helm of the Middle East’s premier club had, apparently, at one stage pitted ex-Spain tactician Luis Enrique against a prickly Jose Mourinho.
Arsenal icon Arsene Wenger was also thrown in for good measure and compatriot Bruno Genesio – recently freed from his attachment to Lyon. Don’t forget France great Laurent Blanc, plus exciting regional upstarts such as Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club’s Rodolfo Arruabarrena and Al Taawoun’s unparalleled King’s Cup champion Pedro Emanuel.
A necessary and sage dose of reality came this weekend, however, when PAOK miracle worker Razvan Lucescu was named head coach by youthful new leader Fahad bin Saad bin Nafel.
Predictably, a chorus of deflation and disappointment followed.
A vociferous minority of the Hilal support expected star power – a luxurious drop-top convertible to admire on weekends. They were instead delivered a family hatchback.
But this considered return to their sensibilities is exactly what was required after the capricious and self-defeating decisions made in the first half of 2019.
Those bizarre calls to ditch Jorge Jesus, hire Zoran Mamic and loan Pericles Chamusca contrived to terminate an unprecedented quintuple.
At the same time in Greece, Lucescu was ending unfashionable PAOK’s 34-year wait for another top-flight crown and retaining the Greek Football Cup. Both, without defeat.
Compared to the aforementioned exalted cast, Lucescu’s CV could never compare. He has, regardless, been adroitly selected.
From his record of success, to tactical approach and even his profile.
This call has given Hilal every chance of ensuring Riyadh neighbours Al Nassr’s usurpation in the Saudi Professional League lasts for only one season. Plus, eliminate Al Ahli Jeddah in August’s heated round-of-16 double header in the 2019 AFC Champions League.
Lucescu was born to manage – literally. Father Mircea’s dismissal by Turkey in February provided an undignified end to a four-decade stint in the dugout.
This store of knowledge and inherited instincts helped send Razvan to the Romania job aged just 40-years old.
Winning Middle East experience would be gained at El Jaish. There, he claimed the 2012/13 Qatar Stars Cup.
It is in Greece, however, that Lucescu definitively exhibited extraordinary managerial talent.
A first Cup final appearance in unfancied Skoda Xanthi’s then 48-year history propelled him to PAOK.
Their near miss in 2017/18 was followed by a joyous subsequent campaign, earned with a record points haul of 80.
Appeal for Hilal will be found in the fact Lucescu has achieved so much, yet at 50-years old still has plenty to do.
“I want to give thanks for the possibility, the opportunity, to pick me to be the coach of the most-famous team in Asia,” he stated on Hilal’s official Twitter account.
“I know there is a huge passion for this team. I know that there are huge expectations and I feel a huge responsibility.”
Opening addresses, over time, can often become mere platitudes.
But have the likes of Wenger and Mourinho retained such hunger? What has the trophyless Genesio really done to deserve higher billing?
Lucescu’s tactical mind is also already in tune with the demands of the job.
Middle East players are raised on a strict diet of 4-2-3-1. This is Lucescu’s preferred formation.
There is also ample room for invention.
August 2018’s painful Champions League play-offs loss to Benfica featured an inventive free-kick move from 35-yards out, against a packed defence, from which three penetrating passes ended with a tap-in for now Al Ittihad centre forward Aleksandar Prijovic.
A study of Hilal’s rich 61-year history features tacticians of global renown like Mario Zagallo and Anghel Iordanescu.
Noteworthy successes, however, in recent years came under figures like Cosmin Olaroiu and Ramon Diaz. Their managerial reputations were earned far away from the mainstream.
Lucescu comes from similar stock.
Hilal’s ability to offer tax-free wages of $4 million per annum opened up a world of possibilities.
Ignore the noise and all signs point to them choosing wisely with their latest Romanian supremo. He could yet become their ‘Special One’.
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