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Al Ain coach: 49 Days

September 24th, 2013 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Arabian Gulf League, Dubai, Football, Pro League, soccer, The National, UAE

Jorge Fossati has been around. He began coaching soccer teams in 1993, and been employed pretty much nonstop, in a very volatile field, including time in his native Uruguay, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Brazil.

When he was hired by Al Ain, that made five countries he had coached in, three here in the Gulf. And in his most recent turn in the region he led Al Sadd of Qatar to the Asian Champions League title, in 2011. The only west Asia club to win the this continent’s Champions League since, well, Al Ain, in 2003.

When Al Ain lost the man who coached them to the past two UAE league titles, they 1) were a bit stunned, because Cosmin Olaroiu went no further than Dubai to get a job, with Al Ahli, Al Ain’s rivals, of late … and 2) decided they would get the guy who won the Asian Champions League, because they aspire to do so again themselves.

In the process, they apparently didn’t ask all the questions they should have, of Senor Fossati, because they fired him after 49 days, which is a short stint even by Gulf standards.

What went wrong?

Al Ain didn’t like the way the season opened, though it was nothing like a disaster. They played Ahli in the Super Cup, the traditional opener, and lost 3-2 in a shootout after 90 minutes of 0-0 in extreme heat. Losing a shootout … it rarely can be blamed on a coach.

He lost a league cup game, he won a league cup game. No big deal. Nobody here cares about the league cup until you find yourself in the semifinals … much like England, actually.

But five days after that second league cup game … he was fired. Just before the league season started.

And why? As far as we can tell, the most significant reason is this one:

Because Fossati wanted to play a 3-5-2 formation. Al Ain’s players and management wanted a 4-4-2.

Apparently, they argued about this for weeks. Or at least once management saw that 3-5-2 on the field.

Fossati had a couple of good reasons to play that way. He seems to prefer it, which ought to matter. He’s coaching the team. And because of the presence of a certain Michel Bastos, a Brazilian winger and newcomer who played in the Uefa Champions League with Lyon just a few years ago.

Bastos isn’t quite a forward, but he doesn’t seem to realize it. He doesn’t really defend, so you may not want him on the left side of a 4-4-2’s midfield. So Fossati’s 3-5-2 actually seemed suited to Bastos, given that he could go forward but still had some help in midfield to help break up attacks.

Nope. Al Ain was having none of it.

Apparently some of the players complained, and management didn’t like it, but Fossati refused to budge. About a week before he was gone, someone in Al Ain left for a few days and said, “See you when I get back,” and the coach said: “Sure, if I’m still here.”

Turns out, he wasn’t.

The killer of this is … apparently no one at Al Ain bothered to ask Fossati about what formation he preferred. Fossati perhaps did not volunteer that bit of information, because coaches tend to believe “formation” falls in their bailiwick — till they’re fired, of course.

So this simmered and stewed for seven weeks, especially the final three, and now Al Ain — which is a serious club here, but seems capable of brain freeze, now and then — has an interim coach and already has a loss in the league, and seems to be having a devil of a time finding a replacement coach.

Maybe because all the good coaches are working?

Anyway, 49 days. Even in the UAE, that’s an impressively short stay.


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