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Julen Lopetegui and Marcelo Gallardo on Al-Ittihad shortlist

Despite winning the Saudi Pro League last season, the Jeddah based club dismissed Portuguese coach Nuno Espirito Santos.

Julen Lopetegui, entrenador del Wolverhampton, da instrucciones durante un partido.

Months after leading the Jeddah club to a first Saudi Pro League title in 14 years, Portuguese coach Nuno Espirito Santos was abruptly dismissed by the Tigers last week with many citing poor results as the motivation behind his dismissal as the team sit in fifth place in the SPL.

Monday’s shock 2-0 defeat to Iraq’s Air Force Club in the AFC Champions League proved to be Nuno’s last game in charge at Ittihad, despite them still sitting top of Group C on nine points. It was also reported that Nuno and Karim Benzema were involved in a heated exchange post game.

Former Al Ittihad coach Nuno Espirito Santo
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Former Al Ittihad coach Nuno Espirito SantoAHMED YOSRIREUTERS

Former Ittihad goalkeeper Hassan Khalifa has been installed as interim boss while the club begin their search for Nuno’s replacement with the club winless in five games.

“Following a complete technical evaluation of his time at the club, Al Ittihad announces the termination of its contractual relationship with head coach Nuno Espirito Santo,” the Saudi Pro League champions said in a statement.

Lopetegui doubts

Reports suggest that first choice coach Julen Lopetegui is still unsure of making the move to the Saudi club with Argentine Marcelo Gallardo now a leading backup candidate for Nadi Al-Watan.

Lopetegui has been out of coaching since his recent dismissal at Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers with the initial wish of the Basque coach to remain in England or return to LaLiga.

Julen Lopetegui durante su etapa como entrenador del Wolverhampton.
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Julen Lopetegui OLI SCARFFAFP

Gallardo has been out of coaching since stepping aside from River Plate where he is regarded as the most successful coach of all time for Los Millionarios and despite being linked with positions at PSG and Olympique Marseille, the 47-year-old declined both approaches.

Argentina’s Diario Ole maintain that ‘El Muñeco’ has now become a leading choice for the Saudi side who now need to create a convincing argument to convince the coach to move to the Gulf should Lopetegui say ‘no’.