x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pro League chief wants more effort

The chief executive of the Pro League sees the early irrelevance of Al Jazira, Al Wahda and, now, Al Ain as symptomatic of deeper problems afflicting football throughout the country.

As the country's top-flight clubs crash out of the continental championship in what has become an annual event, Carlo Nohra is more discouraged by a timid and self-defeating approach to the tournament than he is by the wretched results.

The chief executive of the Pro League sees the early irrelevance of Al Jazira, Al Wahda and, now, Al Ain as symptomatic of deeper problems afflicting football throughout the country.

He takes issue with the widely expressed notion that UAE clubs cannot use their best players in Asian Champions League (ACL) matches and still reach their goals in domestic competitions.

"They say their players can't play this much, but they do in Europe, and North and South America, and the rest of Asia," Nohra said yesterday. "I know it is not correct. Lots more can be driven out of these players."

He believes Pro League coaches allow their footballers to escape with lightened workloads compared to those in other countries.

"Admittedly, it's a culture that the coaches find when they get here. They say, 'I can't get more out of these players.'

"I'm sorry, but that's your job. They can't hide behind the fact that things are different in this country."

He said Pro League players need to push themselves harder, especially in an age when scientific advances allow for quicker recovery and more peak performances.

"There is a comfort zone they do not want to escape," he said. "They need to aspire to more than just winning the league. They need to aspire to be the best players in Asia, and they could be."

Nohra made his comments as Al Ain, "arguably the biggest club in the country", played their second team in a must-win ACL match in Seoul yesterday. The club's first XI never left the country, instead resting in Al Ain after Friday's Etisalat Cup final defeat, ahead of a rearranged match Pro League away to Al Ahli on Sunday.

Al Ain could have been tied for second in Group F with a victory over an out of form Seoul side, but they now cannot advance out of the group stage. The club decided ahead of the ACL match that attempts to escape relegation from the Pro League would be their only focus.

The only UAE club who still have a chance to reach the ACL knockout phase are Emirates, who are not in the Pro League this season. They must win at Al Rayyan of Qatar next week and hope that Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia lose away to Zob Ahan.

Al Jazira seem to disappoint Nohra most. The runaway Pro League leaders and new President's Cup champions gave up on Group A competition after a 5-1 away defeat to Sepahan in March and used a second team in two games thereafter.

Wahda played most of their best players in ACL matches, but the Abu Dhabi side also are not contenders for a league title. Josef Hickersberger, their coach, was second-guessed by the media for playing his first team in an ACL match five days ahead of the President's Cup final. Said Hickersberger: "If a professional footballer cannot recover with five days between matches, then something is wrong." Perhaps something is wrong: a weary Wahda lost 4-0 to Jazira in the cup final.

Following Jazira's 5-2 loss to Al Gharafa last night, the three Pro League sides collectively have registered one victory and five draws from 15 matches, had been outscored 32-11 and are each bottom of their group.

Nohra, a Lebanese and former Asian Football Confederation official, refuses to believe the results are preordained.

"I do believe there is something fundamentally wrong with the system," he said. "The players and coaches need to get more out of each other, and that isn't happening."

poberjuerge@thenational.ae