Bani Yas coach Luis Garcia said he was shocked to hear Al Wahda had dumped manager Jose Peseiro just 48 hours before the sides square off in an Abu Dhabi derby.
Wahda, who sit third in the Arabian Gulf League, confirmed they had sacked their Portuguese coach after 15 largely successful months at the club.
Under-21 boss Majed Salem has been put in caretaker charge of the first team with officials expected to announce a full-time replacement ahead of their AFC Champions League play-off match – against either Al Sadd or Riffam – on February 17.
Peseiro led the Clarets to a superb second-place finish last season and followed up with a 10-game unbeaten stretch at the start of the 2014-15 campaign.
Before consecutive losses to Al Ain and Ahli dented Wahda’s title bid, they had gone 20 AGL matches unbeaten, and the 54-year-old departs with the club just four points adrift of leaders Al Jazira.
A source close to the club hinted at friction being created over a recent attempt to sign veteran Australian forward Tim Cahill.
Wahda tabled an 18-month contract offer to the Socceroos star but later retracted it with Peseiro understood to be unconvinced by the move. The 35-year-old ex-Everton man has since joined Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua.
Peseiro’s last game in charge ended in a hugely disappointing draw with lowly Emirates who scored twice in injury time to make it 2-2 at the Al Nahyan Stadium.
On Tuesday, senior player Ismail Matar declined to comment on Peseiro’s departure at a press conference, and insisted the team still has lofty ambitions for the rest of the season.
Matar said: “Our target is still to win the title but we have targets set by the management which is to at least get second place like we did last season. We still believe in our chances to win the league title.
“I don’t want to talk about the change (of coach). Our focus is on Bani Yas (on Thursday) and anything else is a decision for the management. Our job as players is to help the new coach.”
Caretaker boss Salem added: “We cannot blame the previous coach and we thank him for his efforts. “Bani Yas are a strong opponent, they have been achieving strong results. We hope to achieve a result against them.
“There is no time to make technical changes, we will rely on our current players. We are trying to focus more on attack than defence.
“All our upcoming games are difficult and a challenge for us and we will do our best to achieve results.”
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