Decision to replace Ciel with Adeilson may have confounded fans, but club vindicated thus far with two wins, writes Ahmed Rizvi.
DUBAI // It is safe to assume Arsene Wenger has never heard of an Emirati club called Al Shabab. The Arsenal manage may know about Al Ain because of a certain Omar Abdulrahman. Or Asamoah Gyan.
Shabab have no such player to bring international attention but, still, if there is one club in the Arabian Gulf League that could get Wenger’s wholehearted approval, it would be them.
Shabab echo Wenger’s parsimonious transfer policies like no other UAE side. This summer was the best illustration of that.
Ciel was the equivalent of Thierry Henry for Shabab and Walid Abbas their Cesc Fabregas, and yet they had no qualms about cashing in on both of them at once.
The club’s fans were stunned and upset, and the team’s chances of challenging the big guns were immediately marked down. Shabab, however, remained positive, bringing in an unheralded Brazilian striker, Adeilson, to replace Ciel.
“Adeilson was the one we wanted and he’s available now,” Obaid Hubaitha, the Shabab team manager, said. “We lost Ciel, but he’s similar to him. He plays as a left winger or on the right, is both-footed and good with his head. He’s tall and fast, also, so he’s exactly what we were looking for.”
The Shabab coach Marcos Paqueta added: “Ciel has done a great job for the team and has won great popularity.
“But his departure does not mean the end of the team. We are confident in the group that we have and we are confident that Adeilson will be able to fill the vacuum left by Ciel’s departure.”
Not many people must have shared that optimism in August. Adeilson, 27, had far from an impressive resume. He had turned out for seven teams since 2009, when he was signed by the French club Nice, and he had failed to keep a place in any of them.
But then, Ciel had turned out for nine clubs in the two years before his arrival at Shabab and subsequent high production.
As Shabab started their season with a 1-0 loss at home to Al Wasl and a scoreless draw at Ajman in the League Cup, sceptics nodded knowingly.
Club fans once again questioned the decision to sell Ciel and Abbas, and the management were clearly under pressure. The start of the league, however, turned things around.
Shabab outplayed the two-time defending champions Al Ain 3-1 in their opening game and then returned with three points from Sharjah, as well.
“These two wins are very important for the team as it will ease some of the public pressure that we have been facing since the decision to sell Ciel and Walid Abbas,” said Sami Ahmed Al Qamzi, the chairman of the club’s board of directors. “Personally, I did not have any doubts about the team, even for a single moment, after the deal for those two players.
“But we had been in dire need of some kind words and we have managed to earn that now with these two wins.
“Now people are talking positively about Shabab and the team has managed to win back the confidence of our fans.”
With three goals in their first two games, including two against Al Ain, Adeilson seems to be an astute signing. And he is set to replace Ciel as the darling of the Shabab fans, if he has not done so already. But Al Qamzi insists his team is not about one player. Their battling performance at Sharjah, and the five yellow cards, is proof of that.
“Once again, we have shown that all our players are stars,” Al Qamzi said.
With two wins from their first two games, Shabab are off to their best start in the league since it turned professional in 2008/09.
The last time they started with two wins on the trot, in 2007/08, they had gone on to win the league title for the first time since 1995.
Al Qamzi, however, is not willing to make any predictions for this season or set any targets.
“For now, our focus is on gathering as many points as we can and finding consistency in the level of our performance,” he said. “There is still a long road ahead and we are thinking about winning the championship.
“We are realistic in setting our targets after the changes we made in the summer, and I salute the players for that.”
Wenger, if he were to ever read this, would be nodding in approval.