x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Al Ahli's big-name test was a failure

David O'Leary had managed both Leeds United and Aston Villa but could not turn Al Ahli into a Pro League power.

Bringing in Fabio Cannavaro, the former Fifa player of the year, created a bigger global splash, but the most fascinating aspect of Al Ahli's summer overhaul was introducing a Premier League coach to lead a Pro League side.

David O'Leary had managed both Leeds United and Aston Villa, leading United to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001. The question: could a veteran of the highly competitive and tightly structured Premiership take the UAE by storm? Answer: no.

O'Leary did not turn Ahli into a Pro League power. Not, at least, in the eight months and 15 league games the club gave him and his back room of Premier League veterans.

He had intimations he would not last anything like the three years on his contract, last month saying he had never been in a situation where victories were so celebrated and defeats so abjectly mourned.

A rupture probably was inevitable. O'Leary felt saddled with players he did not want or need, such as the creaky defender Cannavaro and the holding midfielder Karim al Ahmadi.

He was pressed to use the Emirati brothers Ahmed and Faisal Khalil as forwards, but between them they scored only five goals in 25 Pro League appearances. O'Leary wanted to replace them with foreigners this summer. A collision with club management, who are fond of the brothers, was a certainty.

Ahli's Great Experiment is over. They tried the English way and it failed, albeit from limited returns. Another such test is not to be recommended without the patience to see it through. Years, not months.