x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ajman are a family club that is defying the giants

Ajman are probably the smallest of the top tier's small clubs, as well as the least decorated, so it safe to say that it a surprise to find them at the top of Group B after three rounds of the Etisalat Cup.

Ajman are probably the smallest of the top tier's small clubs, as well as the least decorated: no trophies, two seasons in the top flight since the dawn of the millennium. Even Emirates, who have been promoted this season along with them, can boast of winning a President's Cup and a Super Cup in 2010.
Thus, we may safely count it a surprise to find Ajman at the top of Group B after three rounds of the Etisalat Cup, on seven points from victories over Al Ahli and Sharjah and a draw with Baniyas.
Dr Saad Abrahim, the assistant to the coach, Abdul Wahab Abdul Kader, certainly is not offended by suggestions that Ajman do not employ the same economic model as do the big-spending clubs such as Al Wasl, Al Jazira and Al Ain.
"We have limited resources," he said. "We are a simple family club."
Asked to explain the side's quick start, he stressed the idea of community. "We have more of a sense of family in the team between the coaches and the players and the management. It's always like a family. Everything is smooth and simple."
Certainly worthy of some credit is Abdul Kader, Abrahim's friend for more than 30 years and, like him, a veteran of Iraq's national team.
Abdul Kader was choosing the starting XI during the two spasms of competitiveness in Ajman's modern history: a successful start to the 2008/09 Pro League season, which included victories over Al Shabab, Al Nasr and Sharjah; and this run to open the current campaign.
In one of the more significant miscalculations in the long history of coaching changes in the country, Ajman dismissed Abdul Kader after three consecutive defeats to start the second half of the 2008/09 season. He had done enough to ensure that Ajman stayed up, but they won only six points from 24 in the eight matches following his ouster. In the following season, they were awful, winning only two of 22 matches in one of the worst performances in top-flight history.
The club, led by Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid, the chairman, demonstrated that they were willing to acknowledge a mistake, and Abdul Kader showed that he harboured no ill feelings, as they rehired him a year ago. He promptly led Ajman to the Division One title and promotion.
The club's competence goes beyond good relations between players and staff.
They seem to have recruited their foreign contingent well. Ibrahima Toure, a striker from Senegal, has five goals and Olivier Tia, from the Ivory Coast, has another. Karim Kerkar, the Algerian who was so influential in the two cups won by Emirates, is running the side from midfield, and a promising Lebanese forward, Hassan Maatouk, 23, is likely to make his professional debut this week.
None of the club's Emiratis were called in to the national team, but Abrahim said their quality should not be discounted. Waleed Ahmed has scored, Mohammed Zahran has shown leadership and the goalkeeper Ali Mesmari has conceded only four goals in 270 minutes.
Also, not having a national team player in the side confers one small advantage: no upheaval ahead of international matches; Ajman have had their full squad from the first match.
Normally, we might expect that Ajman would focus on any trophy that came into view, such as the Etisalat Cup, given their quick start. Abrahim, however, insisted that Ajman see these four weeks of cup play as a prelude to the league season.
"The main goal is to stay in the league," he said. "Nothing more. We have limited resources and will work within them. We're not like the rich clubs. No comparison."
For fans who fancy a plucky underdog, Ajman may be your club. However small they may be, they could cause sizeable problems for the giants.
poberjuerge@thenational.ae
Follow The National Sport on @SprtNationalUAE & Paul Oberjuerge on @PaulOberjuerge