Walter Zenga to Wolves: UAE time showed combustibility and the extraordinary can come in equal measure

John McAuley writes Walter Zenga's extensive experience in the UAE has shown he will bring it all to Wolves: passion, drive, colour, volatility. The Italian is always compelling.

Jeff Shi, public figurehead of Fosun International, the Chinese group that last week purchased English Championship club Wolverhampton Wanderers, welcomed Walter Zenga as the club’s new manager on Saturday, then – inadvertently – encapsulated perfectly the good and the not-so-good that comes with the firebrand Italian.

“Walter is a hugely passionate personality who lives for football,” Shi said, and that cannot ever be questioned, especially when examined through the prism of Zenga’s time in the UAE.

A former manager in the Emirati top flight at Al Ain, Al Nasr, Al Jazira and most recently Al Shaab, a cumulative four years here were characterised for the majority by an exceptional zest for his profession.

Zenga was dedicated, driven, intense, impassioned, hot-blooded and headstrong. However, that final trait, that stubbornness displayed from Al Ain to Dubai to Abu Dhabi and through to Sharjah earlier this year, is ultimately what has been his downfall.

• See more: Former Al Nasr and Al Jazira manager Walter Zenga takes charge at Wolves

As Shi quickly noted, Zenga “is fiercely determined to succeed in everything that he does”. It is that very determination – the single-mindedness, the aggressiveness in his work – that has often proved his undoing. Zenga can be volatile and combustible on the touchline, in the dressing room or the boardroom, or in front of the media. He is receptive one minute, rough the next.

Without doubt, he is an incredibly complex character: emotional, yes, yet cerebral, too, intriguing and engaging in equal measure, particularly if you converse with him away from football. He is a guaranteed sound bite, a man without filter. In 2012, Zenga was accused of slander and fined Dh2,000 after a post-match exchange with a local reporter.

Not all relationships are fraught. Zenga’s connection with former players at Nasr, a club he steered from relegation to finishing in successive seasons third and second in the league, remains strong. This year, he was a regular visitor to Al Maktoum Stadium, the affection between he and his old charges obvious.

When Ivan Jovanovic succeeded Zenga at Nasr, he met with the Serbian to ease the transition, to help him understand what his new role entailed. He did likewise with Eric Gerets at Jazira.

But his spell at Jazira, or how it concluded, blatantly stung. In seven months there, Zenga guided the club to third in the league, to a cup final and to the last 16 of the Asian Champions League. Even still, he was discarded that summer.

Zenga sought refuge the following June at Sampdoria, a club close to his heart, somewhere he was held in high regard, but within five months he was gone. By the time he resurfaced back in the UAE at relegation-doomed Shaab, he seemed a different coach, less animated, less enthusiastic, perhaps scarred by his past two experiences. He certainly leaves a mark wherever he treads.

Which Zenga Wolves have acquired remains to be seen, for, in stark contrast to his playing career, the former Italy national team goalkeeper is far from a safe pair of hands.

The battleground of the English Championship, a league and a country he is yet to experience as coach, should invigorate him, should be something he relishes, should engender a return of the colour and, of course, the confrontation.

Admittedly, it might also be brief because, Nasr aside, Zenga does not tend to hang around for long, another nod to his powerful personality, to his reluctance to defer to others. One thing is certain, though: however long it lasts, Walter at Wolves will be well worth the watch.

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