x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ajman have their Pro League goals in perspective

Pro League strugglers such as Dubai, Al Shaab, Dibba Al Fujairah and Kalba need to come up with their own long-term plan like Ajman, be patient and stay the course.

Ajman's Driss Fettouhi looks to score during the semi-Final Pro League football match between Al Shabab (green) v Ajman (orange) at Shabab's Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium on 25.03.2013. Ashraf Umrah / Al Ittihad
Ajman's Driss Fettouhi looks to score during the semi-Final Pro League football match between Al Shabab (green) v Ajman (orange) at Shabab's Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium on 25.03.2013. Ashraf Umrah / Al Ittihad

Moments after Ajman's tense 2-1 victory over Al Shabab in the semi-finals of the Etisalat Cup, Abdulwahab Abdulqadir was asked about his team's chances in the final.

"It's a final," the Ajman coach said. "We have as much of a chance as our opponents."

There were no wordy assessments and the short, uncluttered response was typical of Abdulqadir. Win or lose, the Iraqi always sits at post-match press conferences with a smile, never going overboard in praise and never bitter in criticism.

That attitude reflects in his team's football as well. Ask any coach in the Pro League and he will pick Ajman as a dangerous mid-table floater, capable of beating any side. And Abdulqadir's team do fancy their chances against any team. They seldom play for a point and the coach, on numerous occasions, has emphasised on playing attractive, free-flowing football.

At times, that strategy has failed them as well. A look at the Pro League points table makes that clear. Ajman have scored 33 goals, which is the sixth-best tally in the league, but they have also conceded 39; only Kalba (56) and Dibba Al Fujairah (42) have allowed more.

On their day, Ajman can beat teams such as Al Wahda (a 4-2 win) and lord over the likes of Dibba (4-1, 6-1) and Kalba (6-1), but then crumble against teams like Al Ain (4-1, 4-0) or Baniyas (5-0) or even Al Wasl (4-2).

But as Khalifa Al Jarman, the chairman of Ajman's board of directors, said, the team is still learning how to play against the top sides of the league. And hence, they have set themselves the "realistic" target of staying in the top division for three consecutive seasons.

They hold no hollow dreams of competing against Al Ain, Al Jazira or Al Ahli for the league title.

As Al Jarman pointed out, even with their resources, Jazira finished runners-up for three consecutive seasons before they got their hands on the Pro League trophy.

"Even with the best players, you are not assured of success," he said.

"Al Jazira had to wait for three years and you can see the same thing with Al Ahli now.

"They have the best Emirati and foreign players, and a top coach, but they still have to wait for the title."

With their limited resources, Ajman prefer to walk first before they think of flying. That pragmatism, however, seems to be missing at most of the lower-ranked clubs. Kalba, Dibba and Al Shaab - the three teams battling in the relegation zone - have all changed their coaches, while Abdulqadir is in his second consecutive season at Ajman and under no pressure of losing his job.

Rene Marsiglia must be wishing he could say the same, but the Dubai coach is under increasing pressure, a victim of perhaps his own success in the first half of the season. The Frenchman has seen his team lose four consecutive league matches and could lose his job if the club do not get a win soon.

"Really, I am under a lot of pressure from everybody - from the media, from people here at the club," Marsiglia said after the last round of the Pro League.

"There is too much pressure on me and it's not good."

And it is not good for his team either. The uncertainty will not help the players in any way.

Dubai - and even Shaab, Dibba and Kalba - need to come up with their own long-term plan like Ajman, be patient and stay the course.

Nobody likes to lose, but you need to be realistic when you are playing against opponents at a much higher level.

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE