x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Applause from Ahli players for fitness first approach

From the experiences of their three-week camp in Austria, the players now have a much better understanding of what an English Premier League standard beasting entails.

DUBAI // If the Emirati players of Al Ahli had any doubts about the level of commitment expected of them by their new taskmasters, they were quickly dispelled during their recent training camp in Austria. David O'Leary, the manager, has a powerful support staff in place at the Rashid Stadium, which includes John Phillips, a dedicated strength and conditioning coach newly-arrived from Malmo in Sweden.

As part of the Dubai club's move towards a greater level of professionalism, Ahli's coaching hierarchy will be expecting their players to be among the fittest in the UAE when the season kicks-off against Al Dhafra on August 26. From the sounds of their experiences of their three-week camp in Austria, the players now have a much better understanding of what an English Premier League standard beasting entails.

"Pushing us hard physically was the first thing they wanted to do," said Faisal Khalil, Ahli's UAE international forward. "That is good for us, and hopefully everybody will be able to see the work we have been putting in as soon as the season starts. "All of the new staff and management are professional people who know all there is to know about football. "It is important they have come to join us. They are going to give the team a lot of confidence, and I hope we will be good."

Footballers in the Gulf have often been criticised in the past for shirking the hard yards needed to succeed in the game. However, O'Leary, the former Leeds United and Aston Villa manager, was full of praise for the application shown by his new charges. "The lads did fantastically well [in Austria]," he said. "Great credit goes to the players for the response we had there. "They have taken to what we want. It is new to them, but they have dug in and accepted the challenge."

@Email:pradley@thenational.ae