The change, no matter how disappointing, finally came for Al Hilal this week.
Razvan Lucescu, once a pre-eminent engineer of the sacred triumph of the AFC Champions League in 2019 and the subsequent regaining of the Saudi Professional League in 2019/20, made way for a staggering loss of form as his troops went from 12 wins in 13 games to three more Wins in the season rose the procedure 13 run-outs. Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Damac kept them in an unacceptable third place and proved too much for a board that had shown remarkable tolerance by the region’s short standards.
Come in, Rogerio Micale. Hardly a familiar name to most observers.
However, this unusual status also applies to the 2020/21 front runner, Al Shabab with Carlos Inarejos, and the 2018/19 champion, Al Nassr, with Alen Horvat. There is an unprecedented – and extremely strange – situation in which the three largest clubs in Riyadh are now being run to varying degrees permanently by technical staff who are promoted from within.
It was Neymar who rightly dominated the headlines when Brazil was led to gold by Micale at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Little fanfare therefore greeted a 51-year-old who originally landed last December to lead the U19 selection after being fired from Serie B after five losses from six Parana games.
But Hilal supporters and their rivals across the continent shouldn’t make the mistake of immediately counting a tactician whose greatest club-level achievements include U20 tournaments played a decade or more ago at Figueirense and Atletico Mineiro.
The promotion of micale – loud until the end of the season Arriyadiyah – should be called “intelligent gambling”. He, Inarejos and Horvat represent a change in perspective.
When there was previously a need for change, the clubs in the kingdom immediately looked for external options. There is now an increasing desire to access internal solutions first.
Nassr has apparently decided to combine developing exciting home-grown products and buying from elite Saudi talent with a Croat familiar by his past role as an academy manager. Predecessor Rui Vitoria, whose collective ethos is still evident at Benfica despite leaving in December, deserves credit too.
The unknown Spaniard Inarejos continued his good work from the U-23. Shabab was five points behind the pace in third place when Pedro Caixinha was removed in January and is now starting week 20 with a four point lead.
Micale meets high standards. All Hilal bosses, caretakers or permanent / announced or unannounced, always are.
But he is also expected to get the progress out of the winter – and Saudi Arabia’s great hope – Abdullah Al Hamdan and 24-year-old goalkeeper Habib Al Wotayan. There will be others among the first team that he will have to look at better.
Premium imported talent is of course vital. The Argentine metronome Ever Banega has fundamentally changed the expectations of Shabab.
It was the Vitoria triumvirate, 2019 global top scorer Abderrazak Hamdallah, and Moroccan winger Nordin Amrabat who had the greatest impact on Nassr’s final title win. Ex-striker Bafetimbi Gomis from France, Lyon and Galatasaray is still incomparable in the Hilal locker room.
All three clubs could soon look for an established name in the shelter. With the SPL’s remaining traction, the former head of Seville, Espanyol and Alaves, Pablo Machin, decided on the rise of Al Ain a little over two weeks ago.
The kings of the capital have refused the typical route. For now.
It will be fascinating to see how far they are willing to move on in this unexpected direction.
Learn more about the Sport360 application