After a season that saw Al Ain’s fortunes turned on their head and Majed Naser bring shame on the league, Ahmed Rizvi looks back on a dramatic Pro League campaign.
Five of the best
The return of Al Ain
Last year, as Al Ain finished 10th in the league, 28 points behind the champions Al Jazira, only the most reckless of pundits would have imagined they would bounce back to win the championship title by a comfortable 14-point margin. The disappointing finish, however, was a scar on the proud history of the club and a new management was brought in to change course. Cosmin Olaroiu, league winner in Romania and Saudi Arabia, took charge of the team and he delivered.
Al Ain's fans
Asamoah Gyan, Yasser Al Qahtani, Ignacio Scocco and Al Ain's talented group of Emirati players all played their part on the pitch but, according to Olaroiu, the club's fans were their biggest asset. A total of 87,988 attended Al Ain's home matches this season, while 74,642 watched them on the road. The lowest attendance in their 22 matches was 2,150 at Dubai and most clubs would call that a good number. Five of their matches had crowds in excess of 10,000 and the derby at Al Jazira attracted 21,455 to the stadium.
The Zenga affect
Al Nasr had spent most of the past decade in the lower half of table, usually battling to survive relegation. In the first 10 seasons of the new millennium, they had failed to figure among the top three, but Walter Zenga's arrival has turned their fortunes around. Taking over the reins of a relegation-threatened team in December, 2010, he took them to third and this season, they have gone one better to finish second behind Al Ain. The Italian would be the coach of the season.
Al Kamali's Lyon move
Named among the best 100 young players in the world by the respected Spanish football magazine Don Balon - alongside stars such as Mario Balotelli, Gareth Bale, Bojan, Neymar, Alexandre Pato, Thiago and Javier Pastore - Hamdan Al Kamali first attracted Lyon's interest during a training camp last summer. The Abu Dhabi club rejected their bid, but the French club came back for the UAE Olympic team captain in January and this time Wahda could not turn them down. A first in UAE football, the Al Wahda defender's move could open the doors for others such as Omar Abdulrehman and Ahmed Khalil.
The biggest story of the season, of course, was Diego Maradona at Al Wasl. The Argentine legend failed to win any silverware and finished eighth in the league, but he gave Wasl a global presence and fan following. According to statistics, there were 14,657 articles about Maradona and Wasl published around the world between May 2011 and March 2012. Dubai and the UAE were mentioned 9,462 times in the print and online media during that period. In PR terms, that coverage is worth Dh270 million.
Five to forget
The Sharjah mess
The Kings made five changes of coach this season, looking for some quick-fix solutions to stop their slide, but it was to no avail. Carlos Azenha returned home before the start of the season, Valeriu Tita had two tenures, Jorvan Vieira lasted just six games and 44 days and Abdulmajeed Al Nimr eventually saw the inevitable happen. There was confusion around the foreign players as well and the revolving doors eventually led to them finishing bottom of the league.
David Trezeguet's holiday
The French World Cup winner's stay at Baniyas lasted just 84 days, during which he played four games, missed six and failed to score even once. He terminated his contract with Baniyas on November 21 citing a persistent muscular injury, but less than a month later he signed a three-year deal with the Argentine club River Plate. Hopefully, the Trezeguet experience will make UAE club's wiser and bring this fascination for ageing superstars to an end.
Majed Naser's madness
Diego Maradona tried hard to explain his goalkeeper's actions after their Etisalat Cup semi-final at Al Ahli, but there can simply be no excuse for Naser's action. Quique Sanchez Flores, the Ahli coach, may have made gestures that upset the keeper, but that was during the game and should have been forgotten at the final whistle. Instead, Naser slapped the Spaniard on the back of his head as he celebrated the win with his players. UAE football has probably never seen an uglier incident.
Ahead of his first home game, an Etisalat Cup match against Emirates, the Argentine coach had received a banner of support from his grandson Benjamin. It was put up on one of the fences and Maradona wanted to be photographed alongside. A pesky fan in the stands, however, kept pulling the banner up to see what was happening. The third time he did, his hand was met by Diego's deft left foot. Videos and photographs of the incident were splashed across the globe.
The coaching carousel
It was a lot better than last season, but still only six managers lasted the season - Cosmin Olaroiu at Al Ain, Walter Zenga of Nasr, Paulo Bonamigo of Al Shabab, Wahda's Josef Hickersberger, Diego Maradona at Wasl and Abdul Wahab Abdul Qadir of Ajman. Sharjah made five changes and Dubai had five as well, two of them "caretakers". Baniyas had three coaches, while Al Jazira, Al Ahli and Emirates used two.
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