Ramon Diaz says he has nothing to prove ahead of Saudi Super Cup final at Loftus Road
LONDON: Ramon Diaz said he has nothing to prove when he goes head-to-head on Saturday night with the club who fired him in February.
Diaz, 58, won the league and cup double with Al-Hilal in his first season and then came within a whisker of leading them to AFC Champions League glory in his second. Al-Hilal lost over two legs to Urawa Reds by a single goal and things may well have been different had Carlos Eduardo, the free-scoring Brazilian midfielder, not limped off in the first leg with a serious knee injury.
Al-Hilal stuttered in the league thereafter and suffered a shock exit in the King’s Cup at the hands of Al-Quadisiya. It was a defeat that signalled the beginning of the end for Diaz and he was fired a month later.
While Al-Hilal took months to find a successor, Diaz licked his wounds, took some time off and then popped up again in the Saudi Pro League this summer after accepting the top job at Al-Ittihad. In a quirk of the fixture list, he now faces his old club in his first competitive game in charge of his new club when the two powerhouses of football in Saudi Arabia do battle at Loftus Road for the Saudi Super Cup on Saturday night.
Diaz insists, though, he is not out to make a point. “I won everything with them,” he said. “We broke all the records at the club. The other side has to prove something – not me.”
Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad have won the Saudi Pro League title a combined 23 times, but this is their first time they will have met in the Saudi Super Cup. There are subplots everywhere, with Omar Khribin keen to see if he can outgun Romarinho while Salem Al-Dawsai and Fahad Al-Muwallad will battle it out to lay claim to being the brightest young talent in Saudi Arabian football.
“These two teams represent Arabic football,” said Diaz. “These are two great teams. I know Al-Hilal very well, but Ittihad is a new team and we prepare very well. I want us to produce a good performance that all the fans will like. We want lots of fans to come to the game and they will see, they will know. We will have no regrets.”
Diaz has overseen a period of marked change at Al-Ittihad this summer. Australian international defender Matthew Jurman, Serbian striker Aleksandar Pesic, Brazilian left-back Thiago Carleto and Moroccan international Karim El-Ahmadi head the list of off-season recruits and there is good reason to feel Al-Ittihad should not be languishing like they did last season.
“I am very satisfied with all the players that came,” said Diaz. “They have blended very well with the old ones and we are now a very strong group. We have a good squad, a strong team. It’s a new project and we are so very, very satisfied with the readiness of the team. We have done some very good work in the last month and a half.”
Diaz is expecting “a tough game” against Al-Hilal, “a tactical game, an intense game. We have all the keys to deal with this game. It’s going to be so tough but we are ready.”
He also needs to come up with a plan to deal with Omar Abdulrahman if, as seems likely, the UAE international superstar comes off the bench to make his debut for Al-Hilal.
“We must put a lot of pressure on him,” said Diaz. “There is no doubt he is a great player, but we faced him twice in the Asian League last year (when I was in charge of Al-Hilal) and we beat them and qualified for the other phase.”
While the expectation placed on Diaz when he was in charge of Al-Hilal was to compete for the top honors at home and in Asia, the job description for Diaz is very different at Al-Ittihad. They need to first arrest their slide down the table – they finished 11th in 2017 and ninth the season just gone – and then, in time, start competing for the title they have won eight times.
“The situation is very different to what happened before,” said Diaz. “This is a new project, a new team, a new president and a new coach. I want to work hard to do well in any competition we play in.”