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Doubts mount over future of Al-Hilal manager Ramon Diaz

Speculation surrounding the future of Ramon Diaz as Al-Hilal manager is mounting after the Saudi Pro League reigning champions succumbed to a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Al-Qadisiyah. (AP)
DUBAI: Speculation surrounding the future of Ramon Diaz as Al-Hilal manager is mounting after the Saudi Pro League reigning champions succumbed to a shock 1-0 defeat at the hands of Al-Qadisiyah in the King’s Cup round of 16 at the weekend.
The Argentine coach failed to appear at the post-match press conference and has subsequently given his players a three-day rest and left the Kingdom on a short holiday. Al-Hilal are now without a win in three matches and not back in action until Jan. 30 when they play Al-Raed.
Diaz had led Al-Hilal to their first league title since 2010/11, then took the side to the verge of continental glory, losing the 2017 AFC Champions League final to Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds. But since the final defeat and the injury sustained by talisman Carlos Eduardo in the competition’s semifinal, the side’s fortunes have taken a turn for the worse.
When Al-Hilal resumed league action following the end of their continental campaign, they held a four-point lead at the top of the table with three games in hand, including fixtures against bottom half sides Al-Ettifaq and Al-Raed. But three months later, Diaz’s men have seen their advantage eroded to just two points, having collected five points from possible nine in the postponed matches. Al-Hilal also lost to newly promoted Al Fayha, and are now on a three-match winless run that has opened the door for chasers Al-Ahli, who seem to be hitting form at the right time of the season.
Eduardo’s injury had a massive impact on the team. In the 13 matches prior to the Brazilian’s season-ending injury, the team won nine times. In the 12 games without him since November, they have won just five. Tellingly, Eduardo remains Al-Hilal’s top scorer in the league with six goals, despite not playing for over two months.
To add insult to injury, Syrian striker Omar Khribin has seen a dramatic drop in form. The 2017 Asian Player of the Year found the net in Al-Hilal’s first two outings but he’s since gone on an eight-match dry spell, and now has just four league goals from 12 appearances.
A major criticism directed at Diaz is his failure to strengthen the squad in the summer transfer window. Controversy surrounded the signing of Oman’s Ali Al-Habsi from English side Reading, as the goalkeeper was not included in the AFC Champions League squad, the manager preferring Uruguayan striker Matias Britos.
The signing of Britos has been questioned. The 29-year-old scored one goal in six league appearances and Diaz was so unimpressed with his abilities, that even when Al-Hilal were chasing victory at the Champions League final, the Argentine preferred to bring on 31-year-old Mokhtar Fallatah for his club debut instead of giving Britos a chance.
Diaz finds himself in a difficult situation, with the club losing another key player in Nawaf Al-Abed, who is recovering from a groin surgery in France. Fellow attacking midfielder Salem Al-Dawsari is reportedly closing in on a loan move to Spanish side Villarreal, leaving Al-Hilal extremely thin on the ground just when Diaz needs his key players the most.

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