Does Al Nasr’s Jovanovic deserve to be axed?

Jovanovic now finds himself under increasing pressure, with Al Nasr suffering an almighty dip in form

Graham Ruthven
Graham Ruthven
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Not so long ago, Ivan Jovanovic was hailed as the finest ever to be lured to the Gulf. He was hailed as the Arabian Gulf League’s very own “Special One” after Ivan Trickovski’s praise of the highest order upon the Serbian’s leading Al Nasr to the GCC Clubs Championships and the final of the Arabian Gulf Cup. Somewhere along the line, something went badly wrong.

Jovanovic now finds himself under increasing pressure, with Al Nasr suffering an almighty dip in form. The Dubai side have lost all of their last three matches, losing four of their last six in all competitions, notching only three points from a possible 12 to leave them slumped in ninth place in the league standings.

Recent reports claim Al Nasr already have a replacement for Jovanovic lined up, with former Chelsea full-back Dan Petrescu linked with a job that isn’t even vacant yet, as the club sought to clarify in a statement. Nonetheless, such stories and speculation is illustrative of the situation Jovanovic finds himself in.

Al Nasr’s slump can be traced back to the club’s exit from the AFC Champions League. Indeed, the Dubai club have still to recover from their two-legged defeat to El Jaish last month, with results taking a nosedive since. Even Jovanovic accepts the impact his team’s continental disappointment has had on their performances since.

“The team is not playing as everyone expects in this period,” the 54-year-old coach said after last week’s defeat at the hands of Al Ain. “Of course we need to work more, be more selfish and try harder so that we can have better results in the future. Of course what happened in the Asian Champions League is a factor but it’s not an excuse. We have a very good team and they need to show the fans something better, we need to respond better as a team.”

Jovanovic was expected to lead Al Nasr to a top three finish in the Arabian Gulf League this season, making his side’s stuttering start to the campaign all the more surprising. Sometimes coaches inexplicably reach their expiry date at a club and there is a sense that the Serbian might have reach that point in Dubai. His team looks out of ideas, missing direction and lacking an identity on the pitch. He must shoulder blame for such coaching failures.

However, there is more to be factored in to any assessment of Al Nasr’s slump over recent weeks. This is a club that is lacking a strategy as a whole, reflected by their negligence of the transfer market. The Dubai side splurged nearly £5 million on transfers three years ago, with Ibrahima Toure the highest profile of the signings. Compare that to the £1 million spent on players the following summer, and the meagre £1.7 million paid for Abdelaizaz Barrada and a host of free agents this summer and Al Nasr’s waning might in the transfer market becomes apparent.

Al Nasr are suffering from under-recruitment, or at the very least poor recruitment. They are gambling on the signing of Brazilian Wanderley to help turn things around, with the 28-year-old boasting an impressive scoring record for his previous clubs in both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. But can he really make up for the structural flaws that have fractured Al Nasr this season, especially after picking up a suspension for playing on an alleged fake Indonesian passport?

Saturday’s AGL clash between Al Nasr and Al Wahda could result in a managerial dismissal no matter what the final score is. Jovanovic’s opposite number Javier Aguirre is also under intense pressure after a series of disappointing results this season, with the Mexican also fending off speculation of his looming sacking.

Jovanovic probably deserves more time to prove he can halt Al Nasr’s slide. He earned a level of tolerance by ending the Dubai club’s long wait for silverware last year, also leading them to the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League for the first time in their history. Those shimmering days have now faded, but Jovanovic should be afforded the chance to restore them. How long that chance should last is another matter.

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