What influence with Gianluca Nani have on Al Jazira?
The Italian was appointed as Al Jazira’s new sporting director last week
December could hardly have started more positively for Al Jazira. After a 10-game winless run - stretching all the way back to September - Abel Braga’s side hit five past Al Shaab in an emphatic victory.
The result should have been a catalyst for Jazira, but just over two weeks later and the club has undergone whole change.
Braga was fired as head coach just a week after the win over Al Shaab, with a 4-0 thumping at the hands of Al Fujairah the last blow the Brazilian could absorb. However, it’s not just on the touchline where Al Jazira have rang the changes. The entire Abu Dhabi club is on the brink of an existential overhaul.
The man to bring about that overhaul is Gianluca Nani. The Italian was appointed as Al Jazira’s new sporting director last week, with former West Ham and Watford executive leading the search for the club’s next manager. Ali Khamis Al Junaibi has the job on an interim basis, but Nani is charged with finding the man to turn around Jazira’s fortunes.
So what should Al Jazira expect from their new sporting director? Nani is one of the best connected men in Italian football, and his appointment could certainly be to the benefit of the Abu Dhabi club and could shape the identity of the organisation for the next few years. Al Jazira have given him something of a blank remit, placing faith in the Italian’s pedigree and stature.
His track record is somewhat chequered, though. In Italy Nani boasts an impressive background, but in England he is regarded differently. At West Ham, Nani lasted less than just two years - losing his job at Upton Park as the London side began their slide which ultimately saw them finish up in the second tier.
Gianfranco Zola was Nani’s appointment at West Ham, and hired the Italian again when he pitched up at Watford. But, once more, Nani only lasted two years at Vicarage Road, with the Hornets’ upward arc only finding momentum after the departure of the sporting director. Some may claim that he put in place the foundations for Watford’s current high-flying, cosmopolitan side, but Al Jazira could be where Nani raises his career, which has become somewhat stagnant in recent years.
Considering this, Nani might wish to call on the help of some footballing friends and connections - with Zola the obvious candidate to take over at Al Jazira, should the new sporting director opt to stick with what he knows.
Of course, Zola is already tied up to a job with Al Arabi in the Qatar Stars League, but the fact that the former Chelsea striker has already made the move to the Gulf could work in Nani’s favour. It’s not entirely beyond the realm of possibility that Al Jazira - given his links with their new sporting direction - could lure Zola at the end of the season.
But while Nani will undoubtedly use his connections to stock Al Jazira with renowned talent, perhaps his biggest strength can be found in player development. At Brescia he was credited with the unearthing of Andrea Pirlo and Luca Toni and was also integral in the arrival of Roberto Baggio at the Serie A club. Nani knows how to spot sparkle in young players, and that will serve Al Jazira well.
That might have been a key factor in the appointment of Nani at the Arabian Gulf League club. Just weeks before his dismissal, Braga spoke about the importance of the youth and how it will sustain the Abu Dhabi side over the next generation.
Al Jazira have a certain pedigree as a breeding ground of Emirati talent, with current national team star Ali Mabkhout making his debut under Braga back in 2008.
It’s now up to the Italian to re-establish that pipeline between the youth ranks and the first team.
Nani is briefed with more than just finding Al Jazira’s next manager. He has an entire club in his hands, and their future direction will be guided by the Italian.