Patience is not always a virtue in football.
This is especially true when it comes to managers. For every Sir Alex Ferguson for whom steadfast trust was rewarded with a torrent of trophies, there is an Arsene Wenger who posts diminishing returns after stunning previous successes.
These are extreme examples, of course. But this is the kind of quandary starting to be faced by Al Hilal after a startling decline in form under the once-perfect Razvan Lucescu.
Whispers of discontent have begun to be heard about the man who has ended 19 years of continental pain, landed a 16th Saudi Professional League crown and ninth King’s Cup since his June 2019 arrival from PAOK. Should they be listened to by the board amid the first slump of president Fahad Al Otaibi’s triumphant tenure, or cast aside as they renew faith despite a stark downturn in results?
Recent history points to an obvious, but tough, answer.
Hilal’s serene run of 12 wins from 13 matches, on all fronts, between August-December 2020 has degenerated into one victory in their last seven fixtures. The nadir was reached on Saturday when bitter rivals Al Nassr inflicted a 3-0 humiliation in the Saudi Super Cup, following the surrender of their top-flight lead to resurgent Al Shabab five days prior.
Italy maestro Sebastian Giovinco has registered neither an assist or goal in his last six appearances. Usually electric Saudi Arabia winger Salem Al Dawsari has short-circuited with one assist in his last 580 minutes, while a typically ironclad defence has returned only two clean sheets from the previous 10 fixtures.
Multitude problems abound, beyond a new adherence to the 4-4-2 formation.
Outward signs of inward stress was witnessed on January 15 when Lucescu’s imperturbable manner shattered after a goalless draw at Al Ahli Jeddah.
There appears no imminent danger of the 51-year-old becoming the sixth SPL managerial victim of this campaign. Yet tensions will continue to rise if Thursday’s Abha clash does not go his way – especially with former Manchester United loanee Odion Ighalo on his way to reportedly feed off Ever Banega’s silver service at Shabab and underline a sense of undeniable competition.
Lucescu will know prior victories are no insurance against the sack.
His 583-day tenure, at the time of writing, is the most since compatriot Cosmin Olaroiu ruled from July 2007-February 2009. Lucescu is the 15th permanent manager of this period.
This is a byproduct of the exacting demands at the Middle East’s premier club – and is no surprise to anyone who tackles such a prestigious posting.
But, this fevered state of play should only reinforce Lucescu’s position.
Hilal waiting nearly two decades to lift the AFC Champions League is a stark underachievement, considering their resources and stature. So, too, the five-season barren spell from 2011-17 when no SPL crown was secured.
Chop and change is, rarely, a panacea.
This was markedly true in 2018/19 when the mid-season ejection of the lauded Jorge Jesus saw an assault on multiple pieces of domestic and regional silverware implode throughout Zoran Mamic’s disastrous 84 days.
Lucescu merits backing with another foreign signing before February 7’s deadline and to correct Hilal’s course. This is the minimum due to him after he lifted the ACL.
Never mind his blatant coaching acumen on show in his historic PAOK spell, let alone in Riyadh.
Lucescu should remain charge in the medium term, despite their winter of discontent. It just makes sense.
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