x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

No curbing Carlo Nohra's enthusiasm at Al Ain

If the UAE's most decorated club were to clinch the Pro League title come the end of the season, Carlo Nohra expects to be part of the celebration on the pitch, like everyone connected with the club.

Carlo Nohra says if Al Ain are crowned Pro League champions he will definitely be joining the team in celebrating on the pitch.
Carlo Nohra says if Al Ain are crowned Pro League champions he will definitely be joining the team in celebrating on the pitch.

If Al Ain were to clinch the Pro League title - our hypothetical, not his - Carlo Nohra expects to be part of the celebration on the pitch, like everyone connected with the club.

"I will be running around," he said, upon careful consideration. "I think it would be a merited celebration, and I would join everyone else."

That image might elicit smiles from those who know Nohra from his two decades as a ferociously competent but behind-the-scenes executive.

While working with the World Sport Group, the Asian Football Confederation and, finally, the Pro League itself as its energetic chief executive for 18 months, Nohra usually seemed to be the smartest guy in the room, and perhaps the least spontaneous.

It can be a challenge to associate him with mindless revelry of the "we just won the league!" sort. But as the chief executive of Al Ain FC, and inside club football rather than above it, he has gained new perspective.

"Definitely, club football is the bricks and mortar end of this industry," the 44-year-old Lebanese said. "At the league and AFC, we're the regulators. The clubs are on the ground, doing the job. It's a totally different mindset. You deal with players and infrastructure and make sure the grass grows and the pitches are lined."

Nohra's first club job has given him a new appreciation of what goes on at the sharp end of the stick. "The real investment in football is on the club level," he said, "and now I can say that from involvement and as someone who, finally, has realised that the clubs and club owners are the real people who get behind the game."

Nohra resigned as the Pro League's chief executive in July, following upheaval on the board, and after sifting through several offers in the UAE he settled on the job at Al Ain, the most-decorated football side in the land. Five months on, he is coming to appreciate the impact the club has on the city it calls home, and how deeply rooted in the community it is.

He retains many of the goals he stressed as the league's boss, but he now sees them through the eyes of a club operator.

He believes a salary cap is a good idea; he now knows it would be "a nightmare" if the league were to attempt to install one. He wants, still, for UAE clubs to be financially solvent, starting with his own; he concedes it will not occur quickly. He would love to see thoroughly multi-ethnic crowds at Pro League matches; he knows it will not happen soon.

"As a league, we have to upgrade the facilities before we can invite people to our home," he said. "I think we have a very hospitable home, but it requires a bit of an upgrade to bring it in line with the western mindset and expectations of a professional sporting event."

A man whose previous jobs called for him to be "moderate and unbiased" has found that "it is amazing how quickly you develop allegiances".

He confesses to pumping his fists when Al Ain score a goal, and he has been combative in defending the club's interests, whether it be during the verbal tiff between Al Ain's coach, Cosmin Olaroiu, and Al Wasl's Diego Maradona, or the behaviour of Al Ain's often exuberant fans.

He understands that appreciation for a strong season tends to cast a positive light on everyone who works at a club, but he said: "I tell you straight up I've had very little to do with the players and the technical staff and the football administrators."

He likewise knows that a difficult season can be dire for a board and a chief executive. "I know that in this part of the world, nothing is permanent," he said.

"No matter what contract you have, the sensitivity to results and the impact on board and chief is part and parcel of our daily working lives."

Nohra suspects that some day he will return to the world of "regulators" because with a league or federation he would have a wider influence than one club. And because it may just suit his personality.

Meanwhile, times are good. Al Ain lead the table by five points with eight rounds left, and Nohra enjoys his new environment. He assumes nothing, but if the club should secure their 10th league trophy, in the immediate aftermath he will be the man in a business suit "running around" on the pitch.

 

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

 

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