Secret to avoid the axe in Pro League: win every game

Halfway through the Pro League season, the 12 clubs have employed 20 coaches. Walter Zenga, the former Italy national goalkeeper, is the new boy, at Al Nasr, and coaching veterans in the UAE undoubtedly would advise him to avoid signing any one-year leases.

Coaches are hired to be fired, but sooner than later here.

"For sure, especially the last four or five years," said Josef Hickersberger, the Al Wahda coach who was himself sacked by Al Wasl in 2000. "Zenga's predecessor, Eid Baroot, did a good job, but if the board of directors have a different opinion about the strength of the team and what they should achieve, the coach is the one who pays the price."

Coaches are particularly vulnerable in the UAE, Hickersberger said, because few long-term contracts are awarded; the blow of a mid-season sacking rarely is softened by a full season of wages.

"This is different than in Europe," he said, "and this is why the coaches here are sacked so quickly."

Many European coaches have contracts of more than one year, and clubs are loathe to quit on them at the first sign of trouble for fear of having to pay two (perhaps three) salaries for one job.

From the perspective of local clubs, changing managers is far simpler than turning over the squad. The process can serve as a sort of catharsis for frustrated officials, as well as to send a message to fans that they are aware of expectations not met.

Six clubs have the same coach with whom they started the season: David O'Leary at Al Ahli, Abel Braga at Al Jazira, Paulo Bonamigo at Al Shabab, Sergio Farias at Al Wasl, Lufti al Benzarti at Baniyas and Manuel Cajuda at Sharjah. All but Cajuda has his team in the top five of the table.

Two of them, Braga and al Benzarti are in their third seasons with their clubs, tenures of extraordinary length in the region.

Phil Anderton, the chief executive of Jazira, the league leaders, related the story of a Scottish coach who was nearly fired in his second season at Manchester United, in 1988. "That man was Alex Ferguson. He won a key match in the middle of the season and the rest, as they say, is history."

Anderton said clubs should be sure of their man before they hire him, as Jazira were with Braga, and then stand behind him.

"We're happy we stuck with our coach and you can see the benefit of it," Anderton said. "You have to give a coach time to build a team, to get the right players, install their own management culture. It doesn't happen overnight."

Braga, who led Jazira to runners-up finishes in his first two seasons, is a Pro League rarity: he is working on a two-year contract that reportedly pays him Dh1.1 million per month.

Here are the clubs who have made changes already this season, and the coaches who took over for the ex-coaches:

Al Ain: Alexandre Gallo replaced Abdulhameed al Mishtiki.

Al Dhafra: Alexandre Guimaraes replaced Michel de Castel.

Al Nasr: Zenga replaced Baroot who replaced Helio dos Anjos

Al Wahda: Hickerberger replaced Leonardo Adenor "Tite" Bacchi, who quit, after replacing Laszlo Boloni.

Dubai: Jose Alves dos Santos replaced Ayman al Ramadi.

Kalba: Jorvan Vieira replaced Ednaldo Patricio.

It seems certain more coaches will be axed after the second half of the season begins on February 3. At the current rate, 40 men will coach Pro League teams before the season ends, in June.

Hickersberger said coaches here know what they are getting into, but it doesn't lessen the sting when the axe falls.

"It's part of the business, and every coach working in football knows the situation," he said. But the Austrian remembers well each time he was sacked: at Fortuna Dusseldorf in 1992, at Rapid Wien in 1994 and at Wasl.

The secret to keeping a job here?

"I've been working in this area now for almost a decade, so I know the situation well and it's very clear," Hickersberger said.

"The best way to survive is to win every match."

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