DUBAI // Fabio Cannavaro, who captained Italy in last month's World Cup in South Africa, had his first training session with Al Ahli, his new team, yesterday, as the Pro League club resumed pre-season training after a four-week camp in Austria. The defender, a former World Player of the Year, is the jewel in the crown of Ahli's ambitious plans for the new league season, which starts on August 26.
"Fabio's been in this week working on his fitness with John [Phillips] and he had his first training session with the lads today," Tony Coton, Ahli's new goalkeeping coach, said yesterday. But even the Italian, who captained his country to World Cup success four years ago, will have to fight for his first-team jersey, according to Coton. "Everything is up for grabs, there are no guarantees," Coton said. "That's the philosophy we're bringing to the club. Everyone knows they will have to fight for their place and then fight to keep it. If you're not in the side, you have to fight to get in."
Coton, the former Manchester United goalkeeping coach, confessed that Ahli's goalkeepers were better than he had envisaged. "I've been pleasantly surprised with the lads' technical ability and, to be honest, I was expecting it to be at an inferior level than it is," Coton said. "Their attitude and strength of character is also better than I thought it would be. I've had to break training drills down on the technical side because my first priority has been assessing the physical conditioning."
Yousef Abdullah, Ahli's No 1 keeper, became an early casualty in those examinations during the tour to Austria and is likely to be out for two months.