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)
Updated 21 January 2018
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Doubts mount over future of Al-Hilal manager Ramon Diaz

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.


Manchester United to pursue West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic

Updated 12 min 55 sec ago
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Manchester United to pursue West Ham striker Marko Arnautovic

  • The Austria international scored 11 league goals at West Ham United last season
  • Sources close to the United manager said Arnautovic, 29, has impressed Mourinho

MANCHESTER: Jose Mourinho would like to bring Marko Arnautovic to Manchester United as he seeks to strengthen the English Premier League club's attack in the summer transfer window, Arab News has learned.
The Austria international — scorer of 11 league goals at West Ham United last season — is one of several options to add aggression, height and technical ability to United's squad for a campaign in which Mourinho will be under intense external pressure to bring the title back to Old Trafford.
Sources close to the United manager said Arnautovic, 29, has impressed Mourinho during a campaign in which he often operated as a solo striker.
With his ability to both create and convert chances, receive and hold the ball for team-mates, and play centrally or off either wing, the 1 meter 93 cm forward would offer a range of tactical options — either alongside Romelu Lukaku, or as cover for the only center-forward in United's current squad comfortable playing with his back to goal.
Mourinho is also conscious of United's struggle to present Marouane Fellaini with a contract offer that meets the Belgium midfielder's financial demands.
On the assumption that Fellaini is prepared to leave as a free agent, Mourinho wants to add a player with the aerial ability to bolster United's attacking and defensive options as and when the game situation requires it.
Brought to the Premier League in 2013 by Stoke City, Arnautovic knows the division well and has Champions League experience from his time at Wolfsburg. The Austrian is also familiar with Mourinho's training and tactical methods, having spent the 2009/10 season working with him at Inter Milan.
Recruited from Stoke for a guaranteed transfer fee of £20 million ($26 million) last summer, Arnautovic is contracted to West Ham for four more years. With the London club's co-owners the subjects of supporter protests, to which they responded with this week's high-cost appointment of Manuel Pellegrini as manager, recruiting the club's Player of the Year will not be an easy task.
Sources familiar with United's recruitment plans have told Arab News that Mourinho is also considering alternative signings.
One option would be a move for Mario Mandzukic, the Croatia international who can play all across attack and may be made available as part of an aggressive close-season rebuild requested by Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri.
In principle, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic would be a more direct replacement for Fellaini as the Serbia international has established his reputation in Serie A as a midfielder. Lazio, however, are asking €100 million ($117 million) for the 23-year-old, which United consider too steep an asking price for a player they have some reservations over.
Mourinho's preferred option as a new starting midfielder is Fred, the Brazil international who wants to move to the Premier League and whom United first attempted to sign from Shakhtar Donetsk last year.
Shakhtar rejected an offer of €50 million for the 25-year-old in the January window with both Manchester City and United in pursuit of the Brazilian, according to a source familiar with those negotiations.
While open to the player's sale this summer, the Ukrainian champions have so far insisted that a €60 million release clause is paid in full.