x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A season of sweeping changes

Pro League review: Coaches joined the unemployment line with alarming regularity as clubs were too quick to pull the trigger.

Fernando Baiano, right, scored the goals to help guide Al Wahda to the league title.
Fernando Baiano, right, scored the goals to help guide Al Wahda to the league title.

With the prospect of earning a passage to the Club World Cup to be staged in the capital in December, the incentive was bigger than ever, particularly for the three Abu Dhabi giants, to turn the Pro league into a battle of their own. In the end it was Al Wahda who fulfilled those lofty ambitions to compete with the best seven clubs from around the world and they have vowed to make the host nation proud by going beyond the first round. From the onset, it was a three-way tie between the Abu Dhabi clubs Wahda, Al Jazira and Al Ain, and no other teams, barring Baniyas, who finished a creditable fourth, were in the race for the top four places at any time in the league race.

Al Wahda had set their sights firmly on winning the title from the outset and they achieved it convincingly in the end by picking up 31 points from a possible 33 in the second half of the season. It was a remarkable campaign for the Abu Dhabi club as they set a league record of winning all their home matches and finished seven points ahead of Al Jazira, their closest rivals.

Fernando Baiano, the Brazilian striker, made a huge difference, providing them with a focal point and potency in attack. He was the club's top marksman with 18 goals, six behind the league's leading scorer Jose Sand, Al Ain's Argentine forward. Significantly, Baiano scored twice in the 2-1 victory over Jazira to enable Wahda to lead the title race for the first time. And, fittingly, it was the Brazilian who sealed the league crown with a hat-trick in the 3-0 win over Sharjah in the penultimate game of the season. Achiever Baiano. Terrorised the opposition and scored several vital goals. Underachiever Abdulraheem Jumaa. Season disrupted by injury as surgery on his knee limited his appearances and impact.

The big outlay on players did not reap the rewards expected. They boasted the Pro League's two most expensive players, Ricardo Oliveira and Rafael Sobis, but both missed half the season. They lost only one league game, but six draws put paid to their chances. Achiever Subaith Khater. Took responsibility in times of adversity. Underachiever Ricardo Oliveira. Did not live up to his billing and a knee injury ruled him out of the second half of the campaign.

A season of upheaval ended with Abdulhameed al Misthiki, the club's Under 17 coach, in charge. Their title chances evaporated when they fired Winfried Schaefer and then Toninho Cerezo, his successor. Schaefer's departure came after the team crashed out of the President's Cup and were then beaten by Wahda in the very next league fixture. Yet, at the time, they were second and firmly in contention. No doubt now they are rueing their trigger-finger reactions. Achiever Jorge Valdivia. Produced moments of individual brilliance and was the team's creative hub. Underachiever Waleed Salem. Injured and missed far too many matches.

The promoted club were one of the revelations of the season. They played an attacking brand of football and stunned several top teams to finish a credible fourth. The club have bucked the trend and will keep faith with Lutfi al Benzarti, their Tunisian coach, for next season. AchieverThiyab Awana. The UAE Under 20 World Cup squad member has a bright future. Underachiever George Latouffe. The team's driving force early in the season before fading.

One of the few clubs that decided to stand by their coach, Alexandre Guimaraes, when they were in a rut and losing matches. The Brazilian did pretty well to guide his team to a fifth-place finish on the back of some decent results. They were always a potential banana skin for the top three teams in the title race. Achiever Alexandre Oliveira. Still commands the respect of the opposition. Underachiever Blas Perez. Did not last the full season.

Consistent performances saw them hold a mid-table position throughout the season, particularly after fighting against relegation the previous year. They are in a rebuilding phase under Manuel Cajuda, the Portuguese coach, and are making good progress. Achiever Marcelo. Their main attacking option flourished. Underachiever Rafael Ramos. Made no worthwhile contribution.

Finished strongly after struggling for much of the season. They were under intense pressure at times and the presence of three different managers did not help their cause. The most high-profile coaching casualty was Toninho Cerezo, the Brazilian, who led them to the title in 2008. He was forced out by a dressing room revolt with the Emirati players accusing him of favouring the club's Brazilian imports. Achiever Pedrao. Hard working in attack. Underachiever Carlos Villanueva. Did little to justify the huge fee paid to lure him from Blackburn Rovers in the English Premier League.

The defending champions were the biggest disappointment of the season. Their campaign was plagued by injuries and they ended a tumultuous season under a caretaker coach. Ioan Andone, the Romanian, was sacked, Mahdi Ali, the UAE youth team coach, was in charge for just four months before returning to national duty while Henk Ten Cate, the Dutchman who arrived with a big reputation after spells assisting at Chelsea and Barcelona, walked away after a 5-0 defeat in the Asian Champions League. Achiever Bare. Was not at his best but was still their best asset. Underachiever Faisal Khalil. On the periphery of the team and anonymous when he did get a chance to shine.

Began strongly but could not deliver when it came to the crunch, but they were not expected to be among the top teams anyway. They were too hasty in firing their coach, Laurent Banide, when they were going through a rough patch in the second half of the season and results faired little better after his departure. Achiever Mohammed Salem. Continues to be a consistent performer. Underachiever Abdoulaye Cisse. Made little impact on his team.

One of the most disappointing seasons in the history of the club. They never got going in the league and struggled throughout before finishing just above the relegation places. The foreign signings did not make the impact expected and the board eventually lost patience with Frank Pagelsdorf, the coach, who was sacked after falling out of favour with the fans. Achiever Mohammed Malallah. Strong, committed and solid in midfield. Underachiever Ali Boussaboun. Below-par season ended with him losing his place in the side.

Winning the President's Cup and earning a passage to the 2011 Asian Champions League will live long in the memory. They, did, however, fail to remain in the Pro League despite a decent showing in the second half of the season under Eid Baroud, the Emirati coach, who took charge in November. Their cup exploits impacted on their league form too much. Achiever Karim Kerkar. Consistent performer and the club's "Mr Dependable." Underachiever Hassan Tiar. Made no impression in his first season in the Emirates.

Collecting just one point from a draw against Jazira in the first half of the campaign effectively consigned them to the drop. The silver lining in an otherwise poor season was reaching tomorrow's Etisalat Cup final against Jazira. Achiever Boris Kabi. Ended up fighting a lone battle up front. Underachiever Mohammed Omar. Retirement is on the cards. @Email:apassela@thenational.ae