DUBAI // After four weeks of appetising Etisalat Cup action, it is time for the main course.
The new Pro League season kicks-off tomorrow at 6.35pm with the clash between Emirates and Dubai in Ras Al Khaimah.
Five minutes later, Al Shabab and Al Wahda will take the pitch at the Maktoum bin Rashid Stadium, but most fans will be waiting with bated breath for the main event of the opening day, the match between Al Jazira, the defending champions, and Al Ahli in Abu Dhabi.
On Sunday night, the world of football will be watching as Diego Maradona, after the 5-0 drubbing at Dubai last week, walks his Al Wasl team out against Sharjah. High-flying Ajman will be playing Baniyas earlier on that day, and Al Ain will host Al Nasr.
"The targets are rather easy for us," said Frank Vercauteren, the new coach of Jazira, who won the league and President's Cup double last season.
"We want win as much as possible. We know it is going to be much tougher this season, but the players are ready for the responsibility."
The new Pro League season was launched yesterday at the Armani Hotel in Dubai, with all the coaches, except Maradona, in attendance and all of them agreed this is going to be toughest season ever in UAE football.
"We, at Al Wahda, know this will be the most competitive season of all times here in this UAE league and we have to work hard to achieve our goals," Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda manager, said.
"I wish the Pro League good luck and I wish all my colleagues and [their] teams success. But of course, just one team can win the league and may it be the best team."
Al Ain, with the addition of Asamoah Gyan, Yasser Al Qahtani and Ignacio Scocco to their ranks, will certainly be fancying their chances of holding aloft the trophy at the end of the campaign.
"Everyone wants to win, so maybe we should split the trophy in many parts," Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, said. "Besides winning the trophy, our main target is to make our contribution towards increasing the level of football in the UAE. Of course, we have to work very hard for this and know that the job will not be very easy."
Almost all of the coaches share that vision: of contributing towards the development of a strong UAE national team. At the moment, the team have lost all three matches of their qualifying campaign for the 2014 World Cup.
"Through our hard work, each man at his own club, we can help football in the region because this is the target," Jorvan Vieira, the Baniyas coach, said. "We would also like to create a very strong, competitive league this season."
"Everyone here has only one objective and that is to support the football at their clubs and the country," Ahli's Ivan Hasek said. "I hope to see some good football and a lot of competition for the trophies. The quality of the players in the UAE keeps going up every year so it is going to be tough."
Trezeguet hopes to improve UAE football
David Trezeguet has a World Cup winners' medal and a cabinet overflowing with trophies, but the Frenchman still wants more silverware to add to his collection.
"I know the expectations are high," Trezeguet said. "I have come here to win, to help Baniyas to win the title. I want to show my competency, put in a lot more effort and end the season with a trophy."
Trezeguet, 33, had plenty of offers to stay in Europe, but having heard good things about the UAE league, he wanted to give it a try, and has not been disappointed with what he has seen so far.
"It is a new adventure for me. I have seen a very high level of football being played here. There are some very big players and coaches here, and their arrival will take the league to an even higher level.
"As for choosing the UAE, it is a very advanced country in football and sports in general. I have heard a lot of good stories about the UAE through my colleagues and those who have been here.
"I will try my best to contribute to the improvement of the quality and standards of football in the country."
Trezeguet is one of many stars who have moved home to the UAE. There is Grafite and Luis Jimenez at Al Ahli, Asamoah Gyan and Ignacio Scocco at Al Ain, Lucas Neill at Al Jazira. Many of them have perhaps been influenced by the arrival of Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning captain, Fabio Cannavaro, at Ahli last season.
"Football is the same, whether in the UAE, Europe or South America," said Cannavaro, who has retired from the game now but serves as Ahli's ambassador. "It is about one pitch and one ball. For us players, the important thing is to have a good atmosphere in the team.
"I hope this league becomes much better for everybody because we want to improve the national team. Now we have a lot of big players, good coaches and for us that is very important."