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If players like Al Wahda's Ismaell Matar, right, can stay healthy next season then the Abu Dhabi club should be a contender. Sammy Dallal / The National
If players like Al Wahda's Ismaell Matar, right, can stay healthy next season then the Abu Dhabi club should be a contender. Sammy Dallal / The National

Pro League: A healthy Al Wahda side has potential to rise to the top

If the right full-time manager comes along and the Al Wahda standouts get healthy, next year could be a very different year for the Abu Dhabi club, writes Thomas Woods.

The outgoing Al Wahda coach Branko Ivankovic cited injuries as a reason for his dismissal by the Abu Dhabi club last week, with three games to go.

The Croatian has a point. Wahda have been hurt, with the likes of Hamdan Al Kamali, Mohammed Al Shehhi and Ismail Matar missing long spells. And in a league where a club's foreign players are so important, Wahda's main summer signing, the Gabon forward Eric Mouloungui, has barely played a game due to an ankle injury.

It was an unfortunate situation for Ivankovic, but it shows that whoever replaces the temporary coach, Josef Hickersberger, next season has the nucleus of a squad that could challenge further up the table.

Al Kamali, Matar and Saeed Al Kathiri are all UAE regulars, while Al Shehhi, still only 25, has 57 caps.

Throw in a fully fit Mouloungui, the Senegalese forward Papa Waigo and the tireless Serbian midfielder Srdan Andric and that is a fine core of senior players.

However, there lies another issue: Wahda are top-heavy with strikers. They are the only club who regularly play two Emirati strikers; most club's don't start one. The strikers Marcelo Oliviera (Mouloungui's stand-in) and Waigo have often started on the wing this season.

As a result, Wahda usually had four forwards, but instead of giving them attacking flair, it left them unbalanced. They scored as many as they conceded, 38.

If the next full-time manager can address that imbalance, take advantage of having decent Emirati forwards and perhaps sign a creative foreign midfielder, Wahda could be title contenders next season.

twoods@thenational.ae

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