Successful in getting rid of the monkey on Al Nasr’s back in his first season with the team, manager Ivan Jovanovic is looking forward to the start of a new era with the country’s oldest club.
Without a trophy since winning the President's Cup in 1989, Nasr brought their long drought to an end on Monday night, defeating Omani club Saham 2-1 at a packed Al Maktoum Stadium to win the Gulf Clubs Championship.
Brazilian Sabastio Lapola was the Nasr manager in 1989, and also in 1985 when they won the last of their three UAE league titles. Since then, more than 23 coaches have worked with the team, without any success.
Jovanovic, who replaced Italian goalkeeping legend Walter Zenga at the Dubai club, was delighted to finally bring some cheer to the Nasr fans, but the coach said it had been an uphill battle given the weight of their history of disappointments.
“When you don’t win a trophy for many years, the pressure keeps building on you,” said the 51-year-old Serbian, who has signed a two-year extension with Nasr.
“It keeps getting bigger with every passing season and, because of this pressure we start changing coaches, we start changing the board, and the players. The patience level keeps going down.
“This year, we went through some really tough periods but the team remained united and we achieved this in the end.
“I am very happy for my players and the experience they have gained from winning this trophy but, more than that, I am happier for the fans because we have got this trophy after all these years. They can now celebrate.
“From here, after winning this trophy, I believe we can start a new era. To have fans coming up to you and say thank you, that is an extra motivation for me and my players to make an extra effort in the coming seasons.”
Jovanovic is no newcomer to winning cup battles. His record in finals stands at six wins from seven. At his previous club, Apoel, in Cyprus, he won one Cypriot Cup and four Cypriot Super Cups, along with four league titles.
During his seven-year spell in Cyprus, he won the Coach of the Year award six times and, in 2011, the Serbian football association named him the Serbian Coach of the Year.
So Jovanovic did arrive in Dubai with an impressive resume, but he had to work hard to change the mentality of the players.
“We kept talking about the past, these 25 years that we did not win anything,” he said. “There was this big pressure on your back and I tried to change that, tried to make my players look at the future and not the past.”
He also worked on creating an “honest” relationship with his players, where there were no “secrets”. This helped in building mutual trust. But his key asset seemed to be his ability to motivate players even in the toughest of situations.
Habib Fardan, who was named the Player of the Tournament, described his coach as a psychologist who could change the mood of his players inside moments with a few motivating words.
Marwan bin Ghalita, the chairman of Nasr’s board of directors, was also full of praise for the manager.
“I would like to thank coach Ivan Jovanovic on the performance and the work that he has done this season,” he said. “He accepted the challenge, even though he had no experience of this part of the world.
“Now, he has shown himself to be the owner of a clear vision and fought to bring joy back to the club and our fans.”
Success with Nasr has come at a sad moment on the personal front for Jovanovic. Serbia is witnessing its worst floods in centuries and scores have lost their lives. His family and friends back home are safe for the moment, but he remains concerned about their safety.
“For me, this week was a difficult one because my country is currently facing a big problem with floods,” he said. “Many people have lost their lives.
“I am very happy that Al Nasr have won the Gulf Cup, but everyday I pray for my people in Serbia.”
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