x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Cosmin Olaroiu's move from Al Ain to Al Ahli will have aftershocks

Manager Olaroiu's departure from Al Ain to Al Ahli may have triggered changes that will have a lasting effect.

Cosmin Olaroiu was loved at Al Ain but chose to jump ship with a year left to his contract. Pawan Singh / The National
Cosmin Olaroiu was loved at Al Ain but chose to jump ship with a year left to his contract. Pawan Singh / The National

Oh, Cosmin Olaroiu. What have you done? Have you, of all people, not been paying attention?

When Al Ain's Omar Abdulrahman was dismissed in the dying seconds of his team's President's Cup defeat to Al Ahli in May, it was hard to imagine relations between the country's two best clubs getting anymore tense.

It had been yet another ill-tempered match, a month after a referee's assistant had been struck on the head by an object thrown by a fan seated in an Ahli stand during injury time in their league stalemate.

Here were two teams, and sets of fans, who quite clearly disliked each other. For better or for worse, the rebranded Arabian Gulf League now has a bitter rivalry worthy of the label.

But now, hostilities are about to be taken to a whole new level.

Olaroiu, the man who had led Al Ain to two consecutive league titles, was on Saturday night confirmed as Quique Sanchez Flores's replacement at Rashid Stadium.

The former Steaua Bucharest manager has signed a three-year-deal worth a reported €4 million (Dh19m) a year.

Al Ahli fans will be delighted. Al Ain's supporters, some of the most vocal and passionate in the UAE, are unlikely to forgive - or forget.

In footballing terms, such a move would have, until recently, been as likely as Sir Alex Ferguson defecting to Liverpool from Manchester United, or Pep Guardiola leaving Barcelona to join Real Madrid.

In other words, unthinkable.

But negotiations between the two clubs have moved quickly over the last week and now the unthinkable has turned into reality.

The repercussions will be significant, and will be felt throughout the Arabian Gulf League.

The decision by Al Ahli's new coach to make Fabio Cannavaro his assistant signals a clear intent to make the Dubai club even more formidable. Expect more signings to follow the Portuguese midfielder Hugo Viana and Emirati Humaid Abbas to Dubai.

How Al Ain recover from Olaroiu's defection remains to be seen, but the identity of his replacement will be intriguing.

The champions will be keen to show the rest of the league that losing Olaroiu has not weakened them, that they have taken the Romanian's departure in their stride, and already the list of potential candidates indicates a high-profile manager may be on the way.

The former Al Jazira coach Abel Braga has been touted as has Sanchez Flores, whose departure from Ahli last month after 19 months in charge paved the way for Olaroiu to take over at Rashid Stadium. A straight swap between the two managers would be seen as a bloody nose for Al Ahli after the Spaniard was widely believed to have preferred a return to Europe.

The coaching landscape for the start of the 2013/14 season is already unrecognisable from the one that finished the last campaign.

Newly promoted Sharjah have appointing Brazilian Paulo Bonamigo, Al Nasr, having dispensed with the services of Walter Zenga, replaced the Italian with the Serbian Ivan Jovanovic, and Jorge da Silva, the Uruguayan, will officially take over the reigns at Baniyas on Friday. Al Wahda, meanwhile, brought in the Czech coach Karel Jarolim at the end of May.

In fact, of the coaches that finished last season for the country's top-seven placed teams, only Al Shabab's Marcos Paqueta remains in his post for the start of the Arabian Gulf League.

It is not just at managerial level that the changes could be felt. Olaroiu's move may bring a domino effect in the transfer market too, especially at Al Ain.

Captain Mirel Radoi, for one, may choose to follow his countryman Olaroiu out of the club. And what of the golden boy of Emirati football Omar Abdulrahman?

The Romanian coach's departure could well be the spark that ignites a move abroad for the most sought-after talent in the UAE.

Both Abdulrahman and the Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan have in the past cited the Asian Champions League as one of their main targets at Al Ain.

Now, with Olaroiu having failed to deliver on the continent, there remains a lingering sense that he has left Al Ain with unfinished business.

In a wider sense, will his departure see a shift in power from the quaint Garden City to the bright lights of Dubai? As Al Ahli continue to hog the limelight with high-profile appointments and signings, Al Ain, by comparison, now appear a more regional, insular club, even with a brand new home ground waiting to welcome them.

The new state-of-the-art Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, in the shadow of Jebel Hafeet, will hold 40,000 spectators when the club relocates there in October.

Whether the new digs will be enough to make those fans forget this summer's cruel events will largely depend on who takes over the dug out.

But at least they will not have to wait too long to let Olaroiu know what they think of his defection.

The Super Cup, the traditional season curtain raiser between the league champions and the President's Cup winners is on August 30. For once, it will be anything but a glorified friendly.


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