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Al Ain players celebrate after lifting the Pro League trophy. Anas Kanni / Al Ittihad
Al Ain players celebrate after lifting the Pro League trophy. Anas Kanni / Al Ittihad

Onward and upward for Cosmin Olaroiu at Al Ain next season

As Al Ain's title coronation was being completed, coach Olaroiu was already putting in place plans for yet more success.

Even before the confetti had settled on another title-winning campaign, Cosmin Olaroiu was casting his mind towards conjuring more carnival nights around the Garden City.

A second successive Pro League trophy has long been secured - Al Ain guaranteed their retention with four matches to spare - but as it was celebrated yesterday at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium, its architect was already sketching the blueprint for sustained success.

Yes, Al Ain have become the first side in the professional era to claim back-to-back championships, but there were disappointments in the early elimination from the Asian Champions League, while neither domestic cup crammed further the club's teeming trophy cabinet.

"I'm very happy with this season and I thank the players for their commitment and sacrifice," Olaroiu said. "But personally, I'm not satisfied as I didn't hit all the targets I set. We won the league, which was priority, but we got only that. In life you can succeed or fail, but I believe we can go even further than we did."

Central to any improvement will be this summer's careful finessing of the squad.

Al Ain boast the league's most talented troupe, bulging with this season's top goalscorer, Asamoah Gyan, the country's most gifted playmaker, Omar Abdulrahman, and some of the division's finest debutants, Alex Brosque and Jires Kembo-Ekoko, but preserving that core is crucial.

Speculation surrounds the immediate futures of Gyan and Abdulrahman, and even that of the coach, who continues to dismiss links to Al Ahli, the two-time Saudi Arabian champions.

"I heard recently that I'm leaving Al Ain, but if I wanted to leave I would've done it before, as I received great offers during this season and last," Olaroiu said. "There are only rumours.

"I'm here for next season until I finish my contract. For me, staying in Al Ain has nothing to do with financial matters, only sporting matters. I don't care about money, only about my work."

Olaroiu's allegiance is rooted in a number of factors, but chief among those is the promise to augment resources.

He has met with the club's board and, while he would not divulge the identity of potential targets, he hinted signings would be made in defence and central midfield. Analysis of goals conceded this term suggests a new goalkeeper is required, too.

"All my players are good players, and did a fine job for us, but we have to think about the balance of the team because it was very strong offensively, but weaker in defence than last season," Olaroiu said.

"After two years of winning the title it's necessary to make the next step up.

"If we bring good players, our performances will be more powerful. I'm not interested in a player with skills as much as I'm keen to get someone who can bring a new competitiveness to the team.

"Obviously, I cannot specify the departing or joining players because it depends on the outcomes of negotiations. I just hope we'll solve a few internal problems by recruiting talented players."

Preparations for 2013/14 begin in earnest on July 18, when Al Ain commence pre-season before they set off after Ramadan for a short training camp in Austria.

Exertions during the holy month mean the emphasis will be on friendlies against clubs from the Gulf region - Qatar's Al Sadd and Lekhwiya are confirmed opponents - despite requests from Napoli and Atletico Madrid, two of European football's most established sides.

Al Ain's first real assignment will then be the Super Cup on August 30, before they launch bids for a third consecutive title and a prolonged Champions League campaign.

"We'll fight for the first place in all competitions, in line with our strategy," Olaroiu said. "We learn from everything we went through this season and it'll help us in our future, to build on next year.

"[This week] a Romanian reporter told me he saw all our games in Asia and said we delivered the best performance but didn't qualify. The Champions League requires experience, strength and competitiveness.

"As far as I'm concerned, it was a good experience. Our goal now is to pass the group stage and show our real strength in Asia."

 

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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