During his final days at Al Wasl, Guy Lacombe looked like a man who had forgotten how to smile.
The former Paris St Germain and Monaco manager had a permanent look of desolateness as his team lurched from one embarrassing performance to another.
The mood in the boardroom and the stands was similar, and Eid Baroot must have been greeted by a line of forlorn faces when he first drove up to Zabeel Stadium to sign his appointment letter on February 18.
Wasl had lost seven of their previous eight games under Lacombe. The supporters were sick of their mediocrity.
There must have been a sense of futility among the players, too. Baroot was the fourth managerial appointment of the season.
It started with Bruno Metsu at the helm, the former UAE and Al Ain manager was relieved of his duties as he battled seriousillness and his assistant Gilles Morisseau was placed in temporary charge until the club announced Lacombe as their new coach on November 7.
Up to that point, Wasl had lost only once in seven Pro League matches - to champions Al Ain - and had accrued nine points.
In the nine league matches under Lacombe, they lost five times and won twice. They also suffered a first-round exit in the President's Cup, losing to Dibba Al Fujairah, and had a 2-3 win-loss record in their Etisalat Cup group.
Injuries to key midfielders Mariano Donda and Shikabala had forced the club to bring in Achille Emana, from Al Ahli, and Brazilian forward Jussie during the January transfer window, while Iraqi centre-back Ahmed Ibrahim replaced Australian Lucas Neill.
The new recruits failed to arrest Wasl's downwards spiral and the new coach promised to get tough on bungling players.
"I spoke to the players and was very clear," Baroot said on the eve of his first game. "The players who are fit will play, and the players who respect the jersey of Al Wasl Club and have fighting spirit will play, no matter if he is a local or a foreigner.
"I don't care about names, even the foreigners; if the club paid millions for them this is not my problem. This is the time they have to fight for the club. And if a player doesn't, he will never play."
The response from the players was instant. Wasl defeated Ajman 4-2 in Baroot's first game and have accumulated seven points in five league matches under their new coach, whose last post was manager of the UAE Under 19 team.
He had also led unheralded Emirates to an unlikely triumph in the 2010 President's Cup, which qualified them for the Asian Champions League.
"The players have big confidence in the coach, and he has a big confidence in me," said Emana, who is on a six-month loan from Ahli. "Any time we have a discussion he tells me to help the team, help change the mentality.
"We've a lot of young players and the coach needs someone to act like a big brother, to give them encouragement. That's very important to me."
The coach has shown confidence in Wasl's younger players as well, especially the 19-year-old Fahad Hadeed, who was part of Baroot's junior national team. The youngster earned handsome praise from Diego Maradona last season and he is living up to his promise under the guidance of Baroot.
"The arrival of Baroot has certainly turned things around, especially on the psychological level," said goalkeeper Ahmed Mahmoud.
"He is an Emirati and that helps. He has a better understanding of the psyche of the players and our recent performances are a reflection of his work. We are getting into games with more enthusiasm and a greater desire to win, which was missing in the past.
"He keeps talking to the players constantly about their roles, about the greater objectives of the team, and keeps motivating us."
Baroot, of course, is not the only Emirati coach earning positive reviews in the Pro League.
Abdullah Misfir, the former UAE senior team manager, is having a similar impact at Dibba Al Fujairah and the two will go head-to-head at the Zabeel Stadium this evening. Both coaches have expressed mutual admiration for what the other has achieved in a short space of time and both are looking to upstage the other in this game.
"This is the first meeting for me against another Emirati coach in the Pro League and I hope we can get what we want from this game," Misfir said.
"Baroot is doing a really good job with Wasl and they will be looking to improve their position, so it should be an exciting game."
Baroot was also full of praise, saying: "Under Misfir's leadership, they managed to achieve a historic win over the defending champions and the Pro League leaders [Al Ain] and then they held Jazira to a draw. Misfir has also led Dibba to two wins over Al Wasl this season.
"So I am fully aware of how dangerous they can be. We respect them, but we are certainly not scared of them just because they have beaten us twice."
The stakes, then, are high in this derby of Emirati coaches and the winner will walk away with local bragging rights.
Al Wahda v Al Nasr
With both teams eyeing a top-four finish, the Al Wahda coach Branko Ivankovic is targeting a win against Al Nasr tonight. Wahda are sixth in the table with 32 points, one behind Nasr. "Both teams are looking for a win to improve their standings as the league approaches its end," Ivankovic said.
"That increases the importance of this game since Nasr are in fifth place and we are only one point behind. It should be a tough game, but we have lost just once in the second half of the competition ... So I am happy with how my team is performing."
Kalba v Al Ain
Kalba and Al Ain are at the opposite ends of the Pro League table, with 40 points separating them, but the league backmarkers still fancy their chances against the defending champions. "We know the difference between the two teams," said Gregory Dufrennes, the Kalba captain.
"Still, we think of nothing but a win because we desperately need these three points to keep our hopes alive. Nothing can give you a bigger boost than a win over the best team in the league, so it is important we go out there and do our best, and get at least a point from the game."
[ @SprtNationalUAE ]