x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Instability behind Sharjah slide from UAE Pro League top echelons

This muddled thinking by the Sharjah officials is illustrated in the registration of foreign players as well.

Late last month, as news of changes in Sharjah's management came through, one of the club's consultants seemed totally bemused.

"It is all very confusing," he said. "I just don't know what is happening anymore. No stability, just not good."

Fans of the once-mighty club would share those views, for they have been witness to Sharjah's slide into disarray.

The club were christened as the "Kings" of UAE football for their conquests in the 1980s and 90s, and provided as many as nine players for the national team in the 1990 World Cup in Italy. Their proud fans would pack the stands then and even through the last decade, especially for the high-octane Sharjah derby against Al Shaab.

But then came the first year of professional football in the country, and the two Sharjah clubs have just not been able to keep pace.

In the 2007/08 season, Sharjah were contenders for the title with the likes of the Brazilian Anderson, the Iranian Masoud Shojaei and the Iraqi Qusay Muneer in their ranks.

They eventually finished fourth and Al Shaab were fifth. Next season, Shaab were relegated and have not returned to the top division since, while Sharjah just survived finishing 10th.

As Sharjah struggled to survive in the Pro League in the 2008/09 season, they pulled out of the AFC Champions League midway through their campaign. That one decision turned a proud club into an embarrassment for the nation. They have done little to restore their reputation since.

Sharjah used three coaches that season, and this term there have been four changes. The offseason started with Carlos Azenha in charge; Valeriu Tita came in next, only to be replaced by Jorvan Vieira in December. The Brazilian lasted only six games and 44 days before Tita came back on the eve of their Etisalat Cup match against Ajman last week.

This muddled thinking is illustrated in the registration of foreign players as well. The Brazilian defender Vandinho was replaced on the last day of the summer transfer window by Igor Duric.

At the start of the January transfer window, Vandinho was back in place of Duric, but was released again as Sharjah decided to bring in the South Korean Lee Song Ho and the Uzbek Taimur Kapadze.

Vieira wanted the striker Edinho out as well, but the management refused and that was apparently one of the reason for the Brazilian coach's exit.

If true, it was a surprising demand from Vieira because Edinho has been one of the better performers this season.

This instability has been the primary reason for Sharjah's woes. The club had shown signs of progress under Manuel Cajuda during his two seasons in charge. Yet criticism by former club officials forced him out.

Some members of the club are perhaps still living in the halycon era. The reality is different, though.

Clubs around the country have progressed, Sharjah have been treading water. They do not have the structure of Al Jazira, nor the financial muscle of Al Ain or Al Ahli.

They have not gone the Al Wasl way either. The Dubai club have roped in Alberto Benaiges from Barcelona to guide their future stars; Sharjah, on the other hand, have struggled to keep their young talents from leaving for greener pastures.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Abdulla Al Thani, the chairman of the club's interim committee, has some challenging days ahead.

The Al Nasr and Al Shabab model might be one for them to replicate; they should trust Tita and give him time like Walter Zenga and Paulo Bonamigo have got at their clubs.

They have to learn to walk again before they can start running otherwise they could go the same way as Shaab.

 

arizvi@thenational.ae