Patience is not always a virtue in football.
This is especially true for managers. For every Sir Alex Ferguson for whom unwavering trust has been rewarded with a torrent of trophies, there is an Arsene Wenger who, after impressive previous successes, is making falling returns.
These are of course extreme examples. But this is the kind of dilemma Al Hilal faces after a startling loss of shape under the once-perfect Razvan Lucescu.
There is a whisper of discontent to be heard over the man who has received a 16th Saudi Professional League crown and the ninth King’s Cup from PAOK for 19 years of continental pain since arriving in June 2019. Should they be heard by the board during the first slump in President Fahad Al Otaibi’s triumphant tenure, or tossed aside if they renew the faith despite a sharp drop in results?
Recent history suggests an obvious but difficult answer.
Hilal’s quiet run of 12 wins out of 13 games on all fronts between August and December 2020 has degenerated into victory in the last seven games. The nadir came on Saturday when bitter rival Al Nassr was humiliated 3-0 in the Saudi Super Cup after giving up his top lead to resurgent Al Shabab five days earlier.
Italy maestro Sebastian Giovinco has not registered an assist or a goal in their last six games. Usually, Saudi Arabia winger Salem Al Dawsari has shorted out with an assist in the last 580 minutes, while a typically iron defense has only returned two goals from their last 10 games.
Beyond a new adherence to the 4-4-2 formation, there are a multitude of problems.
Outward signs of internal stress were seen on January 15 when Lucescu’s steadfast demeanor broke after a goalless draw at Al Ahli Jeddah.
There is no imminent danger that the 51-year-old will become the sixth SPL manager victim of this campaign. However, tensions will continue to build if Thursday’s Abha clash doesn’t go its way – particularly with Manchester United’s former borrower Odion Ighalo on his way to feed Ever Banega’s silver service at Shabab and underscore a sense of undeniable competition.
Lucescu will know that previous wins aren’t insurance against the sack.
His 583-day tenure at the time of writing is the highest since compatriot Cosmin Olaroiu’s reign from July 2007 to February 2009. Lucescu is the 15-year-oldth permanent manager this time.
This is a by-product of the high demands placed on the Middle East’s premier club – and no surprise to anyone entering such a prestigious position.
However, this febrile state was only intended to strengthen Lucescu’s position.
Waiting for nearly two decades to win the AFC Champions League, Hilal is a severe shortcoming given her resources and stature. So also the sterile five-year period from 2011-17, in which no SPL crown was secured.
Chopping and switching is rarely a panacea.
This was utterly true in 2018/19 when the mid-season ejection of the lauded Jorge Jesus imploded an attack on several domestic and regional silverware during Zoran Mamic’s disastrous 84 days.
Lucescu deserves to be assisted with another foreign signature before February 7th and to be entrusted with correcting Hilal’s course. This is the minimum he is entitled to after the ACL is lifted.
No matter how evident his coaching acumen is in his historic PAOK spell, let alone in Riyadh.
Lucescu should take responsibility in the medium term, despite the winter of discontent. It just makes sense.
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