Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has been fired just five days after leading the team into the quarterfinals of the AFC Champions League.
The dismissal, which ends the 62-year-old’s five months in charge, does not come as a surprise. Fair or not, it had been coming.
Saturday’s 3-1 loss at home to Al-Ittihad meant that Al-Nassr had collected six points from the first four games of the season, leaving the Riyadh giants six points behind the leaders, although with a game in hand.
“Mano Menezes is not Al-Nassr’s coach anymore,” Menezes posted on his social media accounts. “The club has decided to interrupt the contract. Mr. Menezes and his crew would like to thank Al-Nassr supporters and players for the time they spent together and also the Saudi people for the kind reception. We’ve learned a lot during this period.”
Menezes’ time in Saudi Arabia began well. His first act in April was to steer Al-Nassr to top spot in a tough Champions League group, finishing above the lauded Al-Sadd and Xavi Hernandez, the coach of the Qatari team who is tipped to be heading back to Barcelona before too long.
Al-Nassr recruited well in the summer, adding the Brazilian Talisca and striker Vincent Aboubakar — though Menezes seemed unsure at times just how to use the Cameroonian — and there was an expectation of a title challenge.
Defeat to Al-Faisaly in the second game put the pressure on, but there was a vote of confidence from the board. Despite that there were still noises coming out of the club that all was not quite well.
Menezes had come in for plenty of criticism from the media and former players in recent weeks. The play was seen as predictable, with a lack of creativity coming from midfield despite the arrival of the talented Talisca.
Performances were disjointed and with big characters such as Morocco’s Abderrazak Hamdallah in the team, there were concerns about whether Menezes was strong enough to keep everyone in line and the team happy.
All knew, rightly or wrongly, that an exit from the Champions League last Monday would spell the end of the Brazilian’s time in Riyadh, but Al-Nassr defeated Tractor of Iran 1-0. The victory, coming against an understrength opposition, failed to convince the critics, but at least the club were in the last eight with a favorable draw against Al-Wahda of the UAE.
The loss to Al-Ittihad was the end, however. The Tigers played with more intensity and discipline, and deserved the 3-1 win. It did not go unnoticed at Al-Nassr that their opponents, and SPL leaders, had moved quickly earlier this season to change their coach and had won all four games since doing so.
With just four games of the season gone, it seems a knee-jerk reaction but, like their counterparts in Jeddah, Al-Nassr’s board felt it was best to act quickly while there is still time for a new man to come in and mount a title challenge.
It now remains to be seen who that new man will be. The team’s next three league games are all very winnable, coming against opponents who are in the bottom four. Nine points will put Al-Nassr in the midst of a title race.
The names already in the hat will be familiar to fans of Al-Hilal. Cosmin Olaroiu was last seen winning the Chinese Super League title with Jiangsu FC before the team folded earlier this year. The Romanian led Al-Hilal to the league title in 2008 and had a brief spell in charge of the Saudi national team.
Also mentioned is Jose Morais, the Portuguese boss who came to Riyadh toward the end of last season to deliver the title.
That will be the job of the new man at Al-Nassr.