Dubai: Simply put, Walter Zenga was not the most loved character on the UAE football scene. For nearly a year and a half that he was in charge of Dubai’s Al Nasr Club until being sacked at the end of last season, Zenga portrayed himself, wittingly or otherwise, as some sort of a recluse.
His press conferences were terse, brief and to the point – with never an extra word more than necessary offered. It was business in the strictest sense.
Now, more than four months after being unceremoniously dumped by Al Nasr – and Zenga says he still doesn’t know the reasons why he was axed – he has no rancour in his heart for his ex-employers.
And this, he believes, is simply because the former Italy goalkeeper went about his job of guiding the fortunes at Al Nasr in the most professional manner possible.
“It is the worst decision that the club took, but I don’t want to say anything. I still enjoy the best of relations with a lot of the club officials, particularly with Marwan Bin Gulaitha [chairman, board of directors at Al Nasr]. For me, ultimately it is about doing a job in the best way. As far as I know I was doing a great job, until something went terribly wrong,” Zenga said.
That ‘something terrible’ was in December last year when Zenga axed one of the Al Nasr players [Abdullah Masaood] on disciplinary grounds. What followed was internal strife among the players and the best method to restore calm was getting rid of the coach.
“I was shocked. I still remember it was May 23 or 24 and I had sat with the technical committee and finalised nearly 90 per cent of our preparation programme for the new season. And then I am told that my services were no longer required. I think the decision came from the technical committee,” Zenga said.
The Italian is not the type to sit back and bemoan his misfortune and he carried on with his life.
He and his wife Raluca Rebedea had already purchased a new house on The Palm with a private residence visa.
Their elder daughter Samira Valentina was already finding her comfort zone in this new country, so trying to get back into coaching for the sake of a job was the least of Zenga’s concerns.
“While in Saudi Arabia at Al Nasr, I was not paid for six months and I never complained. In fact, we fought well and were in second place in the league. So when this decision was relayed to me, I did not waste too much time on what things should have been or what they ought to have been. I just went about my task of being happy in what I was doing,” he reflects.
“You’ve got to know what sort of person I am to really understand me. I am not someone who lives in the past or thinks of what may never be. Most of the time we are thinking of what has gone by, of what could have been done and what we could have been. But to me, what is most important is the present moment. Today is the day,” he said.
Not empty words from one of modern-day Italy’s greatest goalkeepers. He excuses himself to respond to a call from wife Samira, and his meeting with me is only finished after he drops off his four-year-old daughter Samira at her new pre-school nursery in the Al Safa area.
Just like in his football career, Zenga is impeccably clear in his talk, seldom mixing words as he goes on to philosophise the latest phase in his life. “For me, it’s all being happy in what I do. What’s the point in plotting the future or looking at all the sad moments of the past, when we are not really enjoying the current moment?” he asks.
“I want to be happy all the time, and I would prefer to have happy, cheerful people around me.”
Name: Walter Zenga
Nickname: Uomo Ragno (Spiderman)
Born: April 28, 1960 in Milan, Italy
Unique record: At the Italia 1990 World Cup, Zenga set a record of five consecutive clean sheets and a total of 518 minutes without conceding a goal – a record that is still standing.
Teams: Salernitana; Savona; Sambenedettese; Inter Milan; Sampdoria; Padova; New England Revolution
National teams: (1984-1986) Italy U-21; (1987-1992) Italy
Teams managed: New England Revolution (1998-1999); Brera (2000-2001); National Bucuresti (2002-2003); Steaua Bucuresti (2004-2005); Red Star Belgrade (2005-2006); Gaziantepspor (2006-2007); Al Ain (2007); Dinamo Bucuresti (2007); Catania (2008-2009); Palermo (2009-2010); Al Nasr Saudi Arabia (2010); Al Nasr Dubai (2011-2013).