After a 6-month hiatus from managing – his time with Al-Orouba cut short after a difference in philosophy between the manager and the board – the Italian manager Fabio Lopez took a step into youth football signing for Saudi giants Al-Ahli to become the U-23 side’s head coach. The signing proved to be a masterstroke, as Lopez took a side languishing in 6th place – a team very much unlike its championship-winning senior side – into 2nd after a wonderful run that has seen Al-Ahli U-23 win every single game (9) since the new coach’s arrival.
Many have asked, what is the secret behind Lopez’s immediate and impressive success? Firstly, his relationship with senior team head coach Christian Gross is very important to ensure that the teams are organised coherently according to each age level. “Christian and I have a very nice relationship. We exchange our football ideas very well; he is a man with great experience and is a fine gentleman”, claims Lopez. The belief from the head coach was one of the key components to this Al-Ahli side’s “miraculous work”, as it has been called by some fans.
However, it is the philosophy of this coach that has arguably been the leading factor behind this surprising, blistering run of form. The coach is a firm believer in the fact that “coaches have to adapt to the players in the team, and they must do it quickly”. Lopez quickly came to realise that the team’s stand-out quality was the speed in the front line. This enabled the coach to base their general game philosophy on the skill they possess up front. Moreover, the coach realised that the players were unable to build play slowly from the back and do it with efficiency. Therefore, a more vertical style of play was implemented – looking to find players in between the lines with grounded, vertical passes – as soon as possible, and all coach Lopez could say is: voila.
With the Al-Ahli U23 looking to clinch the title by the end of the season, it’s just a matter of time before Lopez moves onto bigger things, and many fans have dubbed him the successor of Christian Gross once the latter leaves. Whatever it is, Lopez has taken an odd path to the top, but his start has surely been successful and it has managed to wipe off the nightmare he experienced while managing in Oman.