The Head Coaches: West Asia
Amman: Ahead of West Asia's 2019 AFC Champions League Round of 16, the-AFC.com takes a look at the head coaches of the eight sides in contention.
Youth is the name of the game in West Asia this year as six of the eight AFC Champions League Round of 16 sides are led by head coaches younger than 50. With four new appointments and four continuing from the group stage, we are set to see some mouthwatering tactical battles over the next two weeks.
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Rui Vitoria - Al Nassr
Less than seven months after his appointment as Al Nassr boss, Rui Vitoria has already grown into a fan favourite. The Portuguese brought the Saudi Pro League title to King Fahd International Stadium and steadied the ship continentally, guiding Al Nassr into the AFC Champions League Round of 16 after a rocky start to their group stage campaign.
Our head coach, Rui Vitória, met with the players before the beginning of first training of the upcoming season! pic.twitter.com/uMnKlmC0n3— AlNassr FC (@AlNassrFC_EN) July 7, 2019
The Al Nassr job is Vitoria’s first managerial adventure outside of his native Portugal. An obscure midfielder in his playing days, the 49-year-old made his name after guiding Benfica to back-to-back Portuguese League titles in 2015-16 and 2016-17, being named the Best Coach in the competition in both seasons.
Maurice Steijn - Al Wahda
Facing Vitoria on Monday is another young European coach who is taking his first steps abroad. For 45-year-old Maurice Steijn, the Al Nassr clash is his very first competitive game outside the Netherlands after replacing his compatriot Henk ten Cate in the Al Wahda dugout in June.
Official Statement | Maurice Steijn— AlWahda FC الوحدة (@AlWahdaFCC) June 9, 2019
Al Wahda Football Club Company signed with the Dutch football manager Maurice Steijn “46 years old” for a year as a renewable contract to take over the management of the football team successor of Henk Ten Cate the previous manager of Al Wahda pic.twitter.com/49GP8WVoI5
Having started his managerial career at his childhood club ADO Den Haag in 2010, Steijn led VVV Venlo to their joint-highest ever league finish, ending the 2018-19 season in 12th place before swapping Venlo for Abu Dhabi in the summer.
Jose Luis Sierra - Al Ittihad
After a first stint where he brought two King’s Cup titles to King Abdullah Sport City Stadium, Jose Luis Sierra was brought back to Al Ittihad in February as the club battled relegation. The Chilean delivered instantly, helping the club end the season in 10th place, while also securing progress to the 2019 AFC Champions League knock-out stages.
A former international midfielder, Sierra represented Chile in the 1998 FIFA World Cup and scored a free-kick against Cameroon. As a manager, Sierra won league titles at home with Union Espanola and Colo-Colo before joining Al Ittihad for the first time in 2016. In July 2018, he was appointed as manager of UAE side Shabab Al Ahli, but lasted just three months before parting ways with the Dubai club.
Alireza Mansourian - Zobahan
The only local coach in West Asia to reach this year’s AFC Champions League knock-out stage. Alireza Mansourian led Zobahan past the group stage for the second year running, having only taken the job in November 2018, a year after leaving his previous post at Esteghlal.
Just like Sierra, Mansourian represented his country in the 1998 FIFA World Cup. The 47-year-old started his managerial career in 2009 at Pas Hamedan before a three-year stint as IR Iran U23 coach. His first taste of AFC Champions League football saw him guide Naft Tehran to the quarter-finals in 2016 before bowing out to eventual runners-up Al Ahli Dubai.
Rui Faria - Al Duhail
Best known as Jose Mourinho’s long-serving right-hand man, Rui Faria accompanied his countryman as an Assistant Manager at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid before finally deciding to leave his position at Manchester United to get his managerial career underway in Qatar, where he joined Al Duhail at the start of the season.
In his first season in Qatar, the 44-year-old led Al Duhail to win the Amir Cup and finish second in the league. Under Faria, Al Duhail finished second in Group C to advance to the 2019 AFC Champions League Round of 16.
Xavi - Al Sadd
The youngest of the eight West Asia coaches, the 21-year playing career of former Barcelona and Spain legend, Xavi, saw him win every imaginable title, including the 2010 FIFA World Cup, four UEFA Champions League titles and two UEFA Euro trophies.
Xavi announced his retirement after a four-year stint at Al Sadd which culminated in winning the Qatar Stars League title in May. The 39-year-old succeeded Jesualdo Ferreira as the club head coach. His managerial career kicks-off exactly where his playing days ended, facing domestic rivals Al Duhail, but this time it will be on the continental front.
Branko Ivankovic - Al Ahli
At the age of 65, Branko Ivankovic is the most senior of the eight managers on this list. Just like Sierra and Mansourian, the Croatian was present at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, albeit not as a player, but as an assistant coach with bronze-medallists Croatia.
Ivankovic is also the most successful of the lot in Asian football, having won the Chinese Super League title with Shandong Luneng in 2010 and three Iranian Pro League titles with Persepolis. Ivankovic led the Iranian club to the AFC Champions League semi-finals in 2017 and went one better in 2018 by reaching the final, before swapping Tehran for Jeddah in the summer.
Razvan Lucescu - Al Hilal
Best known as the son of iconic Romanian coach Mircea Lucescu, Razvan carved his own path in the world of coaching, building a reputation as a Cup expert, having won the Romanian Cup twice with Rapid Bucharest, the Qatar Stars Cup with El Jaish and the Greek Cup twice with PAOK.
Lucescu’s greatest success to date, however, was breaking a 30-year triopoly of the Greek League by Olympiacos, Panathinaikos and AEK Athens when he led PAOK to snatch the 2018-19 title. The 50-year-old was instantly snapped up by Al Hilal in the summer to lead them in the 2019 AFC Champions League knock-out stages, where his first challenge will be overcoming domestic rivals Al Ahli in the Round of 16.
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