Dubai: Al Jazira chief Carlo Nohra is expecting new coach Luis Milla to make an “immediate impact” on the team ahead of his first game away to Iran’s Tractor Sazi Tabriz in their opening AFC Champions League group stage game on Tuesday.
Former Spain Olympic team coach Milla, 46, replaced Brazilian Paulo Bonamigo as coach of the Abu Dhabi club last week. Al Jazira are second in the Etisalat Pro-League, six points off leaders Al Ain, and were on a run of 12 games unbeaten under Bonamigo, but club CEO Nohra claims the move is pivotal to their continental ambitions.
Al Jazira have won the President’s Cup two years in a row and were the 2011 league champions, but they have failed to take this form into the Asia-wide Champions League, as they have only progressed from the group phase once in four attempts.
“We believe Luis Milla can have an immediate impact and build upon the talent of the squad,” said Nohra, who was previously CEO of Al Ain, the UAE Football League and the director of competitions at the Asian Football Confederation.
“They have the capacity on the pitch to beat anyone in Asia and we will be battling to achieve that.
“Our thinking was that a new coach would add impetus and a change in direction to deliver performances at a critical phase in the season with the Asian Champions League kicking-off.”
Drawing on his vast experience, Nohra highlighted the need for UAE improvement in Asia as a whole, because despite the domestic league here turning professional in 2008, a local club hasn’t reached the final stages of the competition in seven years.
In all, UAE clubs have only reached the final of the Asian Champions League twice before, with Al Ain winning in 2003 and losing in 2005. The quarters have been reached 12 times by five different clubs, while the semi-finals have been made six times by four clubs since the UAE’s debut in 1992.
“It’s vitally important UAE clubs perform well to reflect the image and huge efforts put into promoting the game here,” Nohra said. “UAE clubs have demonstrated an ability to reach the heights in the past and there’s no reason why they can’t do it again.”
Justifying a decade-long delay in UAE teams succeeding in Asia and failing to compete with their Far Eastern counterparts, Nohra added: “Woes are part and parcel of the maturity of clubs as they go through a professionalisation programme. It has previously forced them to approach the tournament in a different way, but now we have an opportunity to move forward.”
Four UAE clubs will compete for honours in this year’s competition. Dubai’s Al Nasr and Al Shabab won West Asia Zone play-off matches to enter after finishing second and third in the league respectively last season, while Al Ain enter as league champions and Al Jazira as President’s Cup winners. Winners of the AFC Champions League enter the Fifa Club World Cup in December.