RIYADH: Al-Shabab’s search for a coach ended this week with the Riyadh club appointing Spain’s Vicente Moreno on a one-season contract.
The former Mallorca and Espanyol boss has been charged with improving on the fourth-place finish from the last campaign.
The 47-year-old has been a free agent since May when he was dismissed by Espanyol, just a season after leading the team into La Liga from the second division. His record was strong enough to tempt offers from other second-tier clubs in Spain, but Al-Shabab’s offer was the one that earned his signature.
Marcos Delgado, of Madrid-based football data analyst Driblab, has seen Moreno up close and knows what Al-Shabab fans can expect from a coach who likes to play 4-3-2-1.
“Historically, he is a coach that likes to have teams with a strong defense,” Delgado told Arab News, referring to his three prior promotions.
“The defense has been the key part of his great performance in the second division. With Mallorca, in the 2018 to 2019 season, they scored 1.15 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes, which is not a high number for a team that achieved promotion.
“However, the team defended very well and only conceded 0.83 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes. Espanyol dominated the league more, scoring 1.48 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes and only conceding 0.55.”
Now with Al-Shabab, Moreno has a talented team to work with, one that was in the title race for a good part of last season before fading a little. The team also sailed through the group stage of the Asian Champions League and Moreno will have to negotiate the knockout stages of the continental competition early next year.
While Odion Ighalo has left, Al-Shabab still have the talented playmaker Ever Banega, with the Argentine still one of the best foreign players in the league. In has come South Korea’s international goalkeeper Kim Seung-gyu as well as Poland’s Grzegorz Krychowiak, a defensive midfielder who could line up against Saudi Arabia at the 2022 World Cup in November.
With young Saudi Arabian internationals such as defender Hassan Tambakti and midfielder Turki Al-Ammar, there is plenty for the new man to work with in pre-season which, conveniently for Moreno, takes place in the Spanish resort or Marbella.
He will have time then to get Al-Shabab playing the way he wants.
Delgado said: “Vicente Moreno likes to control the defensive phase, putting a lot of players between the ball and the goal, without taking risks trying to steal the ball in more advanced positions.”
In short, Moreno has performed excellently in promoting teams but has found life in the top tiers more difficult to come to terms with.
“With Mallorca, we can see his great performance with the team in defensive terms and managing to climb to the first division. The team suffered in La Liga and ended up dropping down to the second division. They failed to generate a good offensive game and suffered from a lack of finishers in attack.
“It is true that Espanyol was the best team in the competition due to its great quality of players and having the highest budget in the competition.
“However, he was up to the task and achieved promotion by playing very well in attack and especially in defense. The team in 2021 and 2022 performed less well and struggled in the last games of the season though they managed to stay in La Liga,” Delgado added.
It remains to be seen whether Moreno not being the first name on Al-Shabab’s shopping list will have any effect. Al-Shabab were heavily linked with another Spaniard in Javier Calleja as well as Argentina’s Jorge Sampaoli, Quique Setien, Rui Vitoria, and others.
He may want to have a quick chat with Al-Ittihad’s new boss Nuno Espirito Santo. The Portuguese coach was famously far from first choice in the summer of 2021 when Tottenham Hotspur were looking for a permanent successor to Jose Mourinho.
The likes of Julian Nagelsmann, Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino, Erik ten Hag, Paulo Fonseca, and Gennaro Gattuso had all been linked with Spurs before Nuno got the nod.
When asked if it was a problem, Nuno said: “I cannot speak about what happened. What I can tell you is that I am so proud. The moment I had the phone call that I had a chance to have a meeting with Tottenham, everything changed. Everything in my perspective changed. I am where I wanted to be. Where I wished to be. So, this is what I’m delighted of.”
It is a good answer but, as Nuno knows after getting fired by Spurs four months later, the best response is to win games.
Moreno has shown that he is great at getting teams from the second division to the first in Spain. In Saudi Arabia, his task is to go from fourth to first.