DUBAI // If Ivan Hasek had said something like "I'm the Pro League champion and I think I'm a special one" on Sunday night, many would have welcomed it. He deserved a few Mourinho-esque moments after his team's triumph, but the Czech is not the pompous type. He is a modest sort, who prefer the backstage to the spotlight.
After his initial burst of celebration, Al Ahli's 45-year-old coach slipped away into the shadows allowing his players to bask in the limelight. He made only a brief appearance for the television cameras before retiring to the privacy of the press conference. And there were no hyperboles, no cliches from the man. "I am happy from inside," he said when asked about his plans for a celebration. "I don't have to do anything else. I am just going to call my family and friends, that's about it."
Minutes before, Hasek had allowed himself a few moments of indulgence as he bounced around the field with his players, support staff and team officials after the 3-1 triumph over Al Shabab that sealed their Pro League title. The former Czech national team captain was overcome with emotion when at the final whistle, and understandably so. "We have worked one and a half years for this trophy," said the coach, who arrived at Ahli from French club Saint-Etienne in December 2007 and won the President's Cup last year and the Super Cup at the start of the season. "This is a great day for Ahli.
"I did not come to Ahli for second or third. I came here to win trophies for the club and we managed it because all of us worked together for it. We have an excellent support staff. The president, the committee and the manager have always been supportive and worked with us towards achieving this. "So everybody worked together without any problems. If there were any small issues, we could take quick remedial measures."
The inspiration for the triumph, according to Hasek, came right from the top; from club chairman Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, who visited the team on the eve of Shabab game for a pep talk and handed over the medals and the glittering shield on Sunday night, and their dynamic president Khalifa Suleiman. "If you look at our president, he wants only the best," said Hasek. "He doesn't want to finish second. So this team spirit we have comes from our boss. He is a winner and he wants this team to be a winner as well."
Suleiman had spent two sleepless nights before the Shabab game, aware of how the 2008 champions had derailed Ahli's championship march in 2001 and 2004. "I am totally exhausted," he said. "I had to take two injections just to be here. I have not been able to sleep for the last 48 hours. I was very worried about the last game because we lost the championship twice because of Shabab. So it was a very difficult match and I could relax a bit only after Hosny [Abd Rabo] scored the opening goal. Before that, I could not even breathe."
Winning the league has given Ahli a ticket to December's Fifa Club World Cup and both president and coach have plans to strengthen the team before they take the stage against the likes of Manchester United or Barcelona in Abu Dhabi. "It is a very important tournament and we will be well prepared for it," said Suleiman. "We want to put up a good show." Hasek added: "Winning the inaugural Pro League was a big motivation for the players when we started preparing for this season. We wanted to qualify for the Fifa Club World Cup and all the players worked hard for it. We need to start preparing for the Club World Cup from this moment. We need to make sure we are a much stronger team in December than this season. We need to keep growing as a team and become stronger."
Hopefully, Hasek will still be at the helm in December to guide his squad against the giants of Europe and South America. Ahli cannot afford to lose him. @Email:email@example.com