x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Don't expect wins when there's no rest for the weary Pro League teams

Because of domestic scheduling, Pro League teams will have very limited days off in between matches at home and in the Asian Champions League, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Al Ain is one of two Pro League teams that will have just two days rest between a Champions League match and this weekend's domestic tilt. Mike Young / The National
Al Ain is one of two Pro League teams that will have just two days rest between a Champions League match and this weekend's domestic tilt. Mike Young / The National

The Pro League clubs were already having a difficult time in the Asian Champions League and the schedule for this month has undoubtedly made it worse for them.

The 14th round of the league, postponed in January to give rest to the Gulf Cup-winning UAE players, has now been scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

That means Al Ain and Al Shabab, who played in the Champions League last night, will have a gap of just two days between their matches. Al Jazira and Al Nasr, who played in Asia on Tuesday, will have a day more.

And it is not just this week. From March 29 until April 30, these four UAE representatives in the Champions League will be playing nine matches – five in the Pro League and four in Asia. Understandably, the coaches at these clubs have been left fuming.

Said Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach" "How can Emirati clubs qualify for the second round of the Champions League football in these conditions and be expected to give their best when they are playing a match every three days?

"Clubs here are spending a lot of money on top coaches and players, but as long as we have such programming, it will keep undermining their efforts."

He said the Pro League "knew the month of April would be a difficult one as we will be playing four matches in Asia, but instead of making it easier for us, they have added insult to injury and increased the number of matches".

Marcos Paqueta, the coach of Shabab, said: "The modified programme will certainly have a negative impact on the teams. We will be forced to rotate players."

Walter Zenga had similar thoughts after losing 4-2 to the Qatari club Al Gharafa on Tuesday night. He made five changes to his starting line-up from the last Pro League game, a 2-1 win over Baniyas on Friday.

"We played a match on March 29, but Gharafa's [domestic] schedule was changed to give them more time to rest," Zenga said.

"And we will play again in three days against Al Jazira in the local league. I cannot use the same starting XI for all these matches, so I have to find my best formations. Yes it is a risk, but this is what I have to do."

Given the performance of the Pro League teams in the earlier matches of the Champions League, it would be easy to dismiss these remarks as mere excuses.

Truth be told, it is a harsh schedule, especially with the summer settling in and temperatures hotting up.

Olaroiu is left to wonder about the sense of it. "How do I prepare my team in 48 hours? Jose Mourinho [the Real Madrid coach] recently complained about Cristiano Ronaldo having to play seven games in 25 days.

"He is a top athlete and professional, playing in 18°C. And we are expected to play nine matches in 30 days in this weather?"

Gharafa were scheduled to play their 20th round of the Qatar Stars League on March 29, but the match was moved to Saturday to allow them enough time to prepare for the Champions League game against Nasr.

The Pro League could have made similar adjustments for their clubs competing in Asia.

During the period that the UAE's Champions League clubs will be playing nine games, the Saudi representatives will be playing eight matches, the Qataris seven and Iranians six. Certainly, they will have fresher legs and an advantage in the crucial closing stages of the groups, when the two qualifiers for the second round will be decided.

The Pro League, then, has done no favours to their clubs. But, hopefully, as Zenga said, they will keep this in mind for next season.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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