DUBAI // Widely considered Al Ain’s greatest threat for domestic honours this season, Al Ahli have made it priority to win the Arabian Gulf League, according to their captain, Grafite.
Last year’s runners-up have spent the summer assembling a squad capable of becoming the first club in three campaigns to finish above Al Ain, the double UAE champions.
Hugo Viana and Ciel provide Ahli’s overseas quota extra expertise, while Walid Abbas and Humaid Abbas supplement a talented Emirati throng that includes a number of national team players.
Perhaps the most notable addition, though, has been the appointment of Cosmin Olaroiu, the coach who guided Al Ain to successive league titles. The Romanian’s departure form the Garden City club was acrimonious, and his transfer to Ahli will only intensify a rivalry that escalated during 2012/13.
The Super Cup clash between the two at the end of last month — which Ahli won on penalties after a 0-0 draw — gave few clues as to which team has the better chance of winning the title.
And, after winning the President’s Cup last season, Grafite says securing a first league trophy in five years forms the main focus of Ahli’s campaign.
“The objective for us this year is to give a special fight for the league,” Grafite told The National. “And then we’ll look to see what we can do in the Asian Champions League and the other competitions.
“With the signings we’ve made, we believe we have a good team and have a good chance to have a successful season, especially in the league.”
If Ahli are to prosper, Grafite is sure to play a pivotal role. The Brazilian may be approaching the final throes of his professional career — he turned 34 in April — but he remains one of the most lethal marksmen in the division.
Since arriving in Dubai, Grafite has finished second in the goalscoring charts only to Asamoah Gyan, Al Ain’s potent striker, and has managed 40 in 41 league matches.
However, Grafite believes he can improve on an already remarkable record, but on one condition: he stays clear of the ill discipline that cost him six matches last season.
Grafite was adjudged to have elbowed an opponent during a cup tie against Al Dhafra and was handed the hefty suspension, together with a Dh15,000 fine.
“I hope to continue the same way, but just to take care about the yellow and the red cards,” he said. “My behaviour on the pitch last year was not so good.
“But one positive is now I realise I must be calm and confident in what I can do to help the team, and not to get suspended and miss a lot of games. I hope to simply play well, score goals and be better.”
Ahli open their Arabian Gulf League campaign away from home, against Dubai, on Saturday.