UAE FA to decide on the future of coach Alberto Zaccheroni 'within days'

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The Italian has a fine CV, but has failed to impress since being appointed UAE coach late last year. (AFP)
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Updated 13 September 2018

UAE FA to decide on the future of coach Alberto Zaccheroni 'within days'

  • 3-0 win over Laos on Tuesday may not be enough to save former AC Milan and Juventus boss.
  • Worry is that if performances don't improve rapidly the target of reaching the Asian Cup final, on home soil next year, will impossible to achieve.

LONDON: UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni will learn in the next few days whether he is to lead the country into next year’s Asian Cup on home soil, a UAE FA official has told Arab News.
Despite Tuesday’s 3-0 win over lowly Laos during the team’s Spanish training camp, question marks still hang over “Zac.” Disquiet has been growing in Abu Dhabi over the record of the experienced Italian, appointed last October, ahead of the 24-team continental tournament that kicks off in January. Before Tuesday’s victory over the Southeast Asians, ranked 178th in the world, the Whites had lost four and drawn one of their previous five matches and scored just three goals in 11 under the 65-year-old.
After reports of player unrest and frustration about the Italian’s beloved 3-4-3 formation, Zaccheroni caved into the pressure and went with a 4-2-3-1 over Laos. Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout, the team’s stars who had been punished for reportedly breaking a team curfew in January, returned and both found the net to ensure that the team scored more than one for the first time under Zaccheroni.
There are divisions within the UAE FA about whether the former Inter Milan and Juventus boss, who won the 2011 Asian Cup with Japan and left Tokyo after a disappointing performance in the 2014 World Cup, deserves to stay on until January.
But what is not in doubt is that his future currently hangs by a thread.
“Anyone can see that results have been poor but performances have too often been really poor,” an official at the UAE FA told Arab News, adding that the target for the Asian Cup is to make the final, as the team did in 1996 when they last hosted the tournament.
“We want to reach the final but if these performances continue then we are not to going to get close. There is a lot of concern and different opinions.”

The UAE in happier times, just after their victory in the Gulf Cup semifinal. Since the end of that tournament they have gone on to win only once and lost three of their five matches. 

The 2-0 loss to Trinidad and Tobago in Spain in the previous week was a dismal effort, and it followed a goalless draw with Andorra and a loss to Gabon.
After such a string of results, the Laos win was welcome for the coach who won the Serie A title with AC Milan in 1999.
“There are still discussions to be held about the recent results because if there is to be a change, it has to be soon,” added the official.
“If Zaccheroni had not changed the formation then it would have been tough for him but he has shown that he can be flexible and listen to the players. That, and the fact that he has won the Asian Cup in the region, may save him, but the next few days are crucial.”
Speculation has increased to the point that the names of other coaches have been thrown into the ring. Al-Ain boss Zoran Mamic has been linked with the job but distanced himself from the hot-seat.
“I am extremely flattered and honored that my name is mentioned in connection to the UAE head coach,” Mamic wrote on social media.
“But (the) national team has a coach, Zaccheroni (who) is a great coach with an amazing career and as Al-Ain coach I am totally focused on our next games.”
Former Al-Jazira boss Henk ten Cate has been another name added to the mix after the success the Dutchman had at club level. Rui Faria, Jose Mourinho’s former assistant at Manchester United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, has also been mentioned.
Publicly the UAE FA has been quick to back Zaccheroni, even if there is huge disquiet behind the scenes.
“The UAE Football Association denies what is being circulated in the media and social networking sites about communicating with any coach to take over for the Asian Cup,” a statement read.
“We appeal to everyone to stand behind the Whites and not to disturb preparations for the championships.”
For Zaccheroni’s part, he proclaimed that he was satisfied with the Spanish training camp.  
“The objective of these friendly matches is to develop the positives and address any negatives so we can avoid them in future,” he said.
“The players are implementing the vision of the technical staff on the field. The camp was successful and achieved the targets set.”
It remains to be seen if Zaccheroni is in charge when the national team returns to Spain next month for another training camp and tougher tests against Honduras and Venezuela.
The UAE kick off the Asian Cup on Jan. 5 against Bahrain in Abu Dhabi.

Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

Though upbeat, Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini admitted that it will be a “difficult match.” (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 16 January 2019

Giorgio Chiellini confident Juventus can buck recent trend of Supercoppa defeats

  • Skipper also happy the match is being played in Jeddah, and sees it as a ‘step forward’ for Saudi Arabia
  • AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso sidesteps questions about Gonzalo Higuain’s rumored move to English Premier League

JEDDAH: Juventus have been experiencing a worrying trend in cup finals of late. Despite securing the Serie A and Coppa Italia double for three seasons running, they have lost back-to-back Supercoppas and seven out of nine European cup finals. It’s a trend, however, that captain Giorgio Chiellini believes can be halted on January 16 when his side takes on AC Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“We want to change that trend that has seen us lose the last two Supercoppa finals, and this is the ideal opportunity,” said the defender. “We have changed a great deal in two years, but we’ve got to prove ourselves with actions rather than words because we let a few too many of these trophies slip through our fingers and it’s a shame.
“It’s going to be a difficult match but the objective is to start 2019 lifting a trophy above our heads.”
Chiellini also defended the choice of Jeddah as the venue for the game against a backdrop of criticism by some. He said that it was “right” to give the Saudi port city the chance to host the showpiece match.
“I am happy this game is being played here and can be seen as a further reason for progress in this country, and I see it as a step forward and not a problem,” he said. “We (soccer players) cannot change the world but initiatives such as this can provide a new start.
“We have been given a warm welcome and I hope tomorrow can be remembered by the Saudi people as a wonderful celebration. We have to provide a spectacle of Italian football and know that all fans will be happy with our performances.”
As the rival teams faced the media on the eve of the match, both were confident about their chances of lifting the first silverware of the Italian soccer season. This year marks the 31st Supercoppa, a match contested by the previous season’s Serie A domestic league champions and the winners of the Coppa Italia. When a single team wins both honors, as was the case last season, they take on the Coppa Italia runners-up.
This year’s game, the tickets for which reportedly sold out in two days, might also mark a farewell to Italian football for striker Gonzalo Higuain, who is currently on loan to AC Milan from Juventus but is widely rumored to be on the verge of a move to Chelsea in the English Premier League. If the Argentine international is indeed on his way out, he will be hoping to end his stay with the Rossoneri with some silverware while also, perhaps, sticking it to his parent club.

Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso (center) said Higuain has never told him he wants to leave the club. (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)

Asked about the status of any transfer talks, AC Milan head coach Gennaro Gattuso was careful to avoid feeding the rumor mill.
“At this moment, I have to repeat the same words: there are many rumors but Higuain is training well and working with everyone just fine and is at our disposal,” he said. “I base my decisions on how players train during the week and how they work with the staff and their teammates. We’ll see tomorrow whether he plays or not.
“I want to reiterate that Higuain has never told me he wants to leave. I am waiting for that. He has to decide what to do, how to resolve this issue, but right now he is training with great professionalism. We’ll see.”
Gattuso then nipped this line of questioning in the bud by adding: “I want to be honest; I don’t even want to talk about Higuain as we’re here for the Supercoppa.”
Juventus head coach Massimiliano Allegri, meanwhile, is well aware that while they are undefeated in Serie A this season after 19 games, with 17 wins and two draws, league form counts for little in a cup final, as evidenced by their recent results in such games. As such, he is keen to avoid any complacency among his players.
“One of the great strengths of this team is our respect for the opposition, otherwise you don’t win as many games as we have,” he said. “There are 22 points separating our teams in Serie A but those don’t matter here. If we do not have great humility and respect for Milan tomorrow, then it’s unlikely we will win the game.”
The prematch press conference inevitably included questions about Cristiano Ronaldo. Since his 112 million euro ($128 million) move to Juventus from Real Madrid last summer, the Portuguese star has netted 15 goals in 25 appearances. On Wednesday, the five-time winner of the Ballon d'Or — an award presented each year by France Football magazine to the player judged to be the best in the world — will aim to lift his maiden trophy with his new club, after having bagged 15 titles during his nine years with the Spanish giants.
While Ronaldo did not appear at the press conference, Allegri was asked whether the striker had arrived in Italy with a stronger and hungrier desire to win.
“He would have to win something first to prove that,” the coach said. “Cristiano is accustomed to winning; he has won four of the past five Champions Leagues and many more titles. Ronaldo is the best player in the world and clearly an added bonus for us. Our situation has certainly improved with his presence.”
Wednesday night’s match is sure to be hotly contested, as Juventus and AC Milan currently share the record for Supercoppa titles, with seven each. While Juventus are making their seventh successive Supercoppa appearance, it is perhaps AC Milan who can lay claim to bragging rights, given that the last time these two teams met in the Supercoppa, in 2016, the Rossoneri ended up on top following a penalty shoot-out after the game ended in a 1-1 draw after extra time. With all the talking officially done, all that remains is a historic night of top quality soccer at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.