DUBAI // Ahmed Khalifa, Al Ahli's chief executive, has urged referees to clamp down on tough-tackling defenders after Grafite, the striker, limped off the field during their Etisalat Cup clash against Sharjah on Thursday.
Grafite, who signed from German club Wolfsburg, scored a hat-trick in the 3-3 draw but had to leave the field in the 70th minute after a tackle from behind by Yaser Al Junaibi.
Fortunately for Ahli, the ankle injury is not serious, and the Brazilian is expected to be back for Saturday's match at Al Shabab, but he will miss tomorrow's Gulf Club Championship semi-final first leg against Kuwait's Kazma.
"It was a good entertaining match against Sharjah, but unfortunately the referee failed to protect our players," Khalifa said.
"As a result, we will be missing one of our most important players for a crucial game against Kazma.
"The officials need to understand that the clubs spend a lot of money in bringing these players. Their arrival here is not good just for the clubs alone, but for the profile of the league here as well.
"They are really expensive investments and the least we can ask for is that they be protected.
"We saw the defenders attacking not just Grafite but even Luis Jimenez right through the game, but the referee did not use any of the tools available to him. If he had done that, we would still have Grafite for the Kazma match, where we are flying the UAE flag."
Ivan Hasek, the Ahli coach, reiterated the grouse. "I am not asking for too much when I say I need my players to be protected on the field," Hasek said. "Grafite is out for our next crucial match due to the negligence of the referee."
Despite their unhappiness, Khalifa will not be going to the Pro League Committee with a grievance over the refereeing. "It is still early in the season, so I can understand the referees will take time getting into their groove," he said.
"But the players need to be understanding as well. Attacking other players is not sporting behaviour. It goes against professionalism and humanity. We raise the fair play flag before every game and it is time we bring some fair play to the pitch as well."
A Sharjah club spokesman said: "We would not like to react to what other clubs are saying. If our players, or players from any other club, are doing anything wrong, the referees are there to make that decision."