DUBAI // Pro League side Al Ahli will continue to rely on foreign managers in their quest for domestic dominance, despite dismissing David O'Leary only eight months into a three-year contract, said Ahmad Khalifa Hammad, the chief executive of the Dubai-based club.
O'Leary, the former Republic of Ireland international who took Leeds United to the semi-finals of the Uefa Champions League, was removed from his position as head coach of Ahli on Thursday after the club's board deemed recent results inadequate. He has been replaced by Abdulhameed al Mishtiki, formerly of Al Ain. The Emirati will be in charge until the end of the season.
There had been concerns among staff at the club that O'Leary did not understand Arab culture and struggled with communication, but Hammad said last night Ahli board members have already compiled a shortlist of foreign replacements.
More on UAE football
• ACL victory has Al Ain looking up, says Waleed Salem
• Al Ahli's big-name test was a failure
• Khalifa takes the reins for Al Wasl against Kalba
"Abdulhamid will be team manager for the remainder of the season, but the board have many names in front of them to potentially come in during the summer and they are all from abroad," Hammad told The National.
When asked for specific nationalities, he added: "They are from the usual countries."
Ahli, who finished eighth in the Pro League last year, currently sit seventh, five points behind third-placed Al Shabab with a game in hand. The top three teams in the league qualify for the Asian Champions League. In O'Leary's last match on Tuesday, Ahli beat Al Arabi of Kuwait 2-1 in the Gulf Club Championships.
"Replacing O'Leary does not mean he is a bad manager," Hammad said. "But we needed a change. The board has been discussing the club's progress throughout the year and decided results need to get better regardless of the result against Al Arabi."
Hammad said he can appreciate that onlookers may see the decision as hasty, but added the club had given O'Leary "enough time and enough chances".
"Yes, it was a three-year contract and yes, from one side, it might seem a quick decision, but David is a professional and he knew what we expected," he said. "I always believe we should give managers more time, but there are certain factors in UAE sport – not just at Al Ahli Club – that put pressure on certain people to get results."
It is understood O'Leary will remain in the country until he collects his severance package. Hammad was unwilling to discuss the exact details of the compensation deal, but said "whatever he is due, he will receive in accordance to the contract".
While O'Leary's No 2 Roy Aitken has also been relieved of his duties, the board have decided to retain the services of Tony Coton, who they believe to be the best goalkeeping coach in the country, and Malcolm Thompson, the reserve team coach who held a closed training session at Rashid Stadium.