Returning Romania great Contra arrives at Damac for another chance to excel in Roshn Saudi League
The phrase ‘unfinished business’ can be overused in football, but it certainly applies to Cosmin Contra and Roshn Saudi League.
The Romanian coach returned to Saudi Arabia in early March to take over the reins at Damac. It was not a surprise that one of the first questions that he was asked was about his time at Al Ittihad and, also unsurprisingly, he announced that he wasn’t going to discuss it.
Contra took over at Al Ittihad in August 2021 and then led the team to the top of the table in storming fashion. In February, the Tigers were sitting very pretty in pole position and were 16 points ahead of Al Hilal, though the Riyadh team had two games in hand.
A first title since 2008/09 looked to be on the cards for the Jeddah giants…
Then Al Ittihad dropped 12 points in the final eight games. That run would not usually be a major problem with such a big cushion to play with, but Al-Hilal just started winning and winning.
Two of those victories came against Al Ittihad, results that really put the cat among the pigeons. All in all, the Riyadh giants won 12 of the last 13 games to win title number 18 – it was an incredible streak.
At the end of it all, the former boss of the Romanin national team took to social media. “I would like to apologise that we let you down at the last minute, and although we did our best, we did not live up to the aspirations of our fans,” Contra said, adding that the great teams bounce back from tough times.
“Al Ittihad will return next season stronger to achieve the title that we have been waiting for a long time.”
The former AC Milan and Atletico Madrid star left Jeddah soon after, to be replaced by Nuno Espirito Santo, last seen in charge of Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. Al Ittihad are once again at the top of the table, though the lead is currently just a single point.
Contra is now in charge of Damac and while he is not challenging for the title this season, what he learnt last time around should help prepare for what is a task that is just as big: taking the team into successive top-six finishes.
Damac recently parted company with Kresimir Rezic, the Croatian coach who had occupied the hot seat since early 2021. He initially led the team into 11th and then last season, there was a time when they were sitting in first before settling for a fifth-place finish, their best-ever performance in the top tier.
After a poor run of form, the south-westerners are in seventh. Getting into the top six won’t be easy given they are currently seven points behind Al Fateh, but that is the aim.
First, however, the 47 year-old has to restore confidence after a run of one win in 12 games before he arrived. Initial signs are good as his debut ended in a 3-1 victory at Al-Tai.
It was a game that was watched closely in Romania, given that Mirel Radoi is in charge of the hosts. It was a great start for Contra and he will be looking for two in two when his team hosts bottom club Al Batin on Friday.
Then comes Al Ittihad. Damac could be flying by then but whatever happens, it is going to be a fascinating clash especially as Contra wants to do his talking on the pitch.