x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Arabian Gulf League: Abel Braga can fill void Cosmin Olaroiu left at Al Ain

Success as Al Jazira coach proves Brazilian is right man for job at Garden City club, writes John McAuley

Al Jazira were unbeaten for 16 consecutive months during Abel Braga's reign as coach. Stephen Lock / The National
Al Jazira were unbeaten for 16 consecutive months during Abel Braga's reign as coach. Stephen Lock / The National

It will take a considerable presence to fill Cosmin Olaroiu's old tracksuit at Al Ain, but with the news of Abel Braga's appointment on Sunday, the UAE champions have found a fitting figure.

The Brazilian is almost a carbon copy of his predecessor: powerfully built, forthright and an authoritarian who motivates and intimidates.

Braga may hail from the carefree environs of Rio de Janeiro, but like most of his compatriots, football is a way of life, complemented by an impressive CV.

Cruel disappointment at one point threatened to discolour his career, yet Braga rebounded to hoard a number of trophies while managing the likes of Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, Fluminense and Internacional.

It was with the Porto Alegre club that he witnessed his greatest triumph, sealing the 2006 Copa Libertadores and sparking a successful journey from southern Brazil to Abu Dhabi and back.

After joining Al Jazira in 2008, Braga carefully constructed a side that first lifted the Etisalat Cup and then built on successive runner-up finishes in the Pro League by claiming the title the subsequent season.

That same year, he also sealed the President's Cup, ensuring Jazira became only the second team in two decades to complete a league and cup double. It was the first time they had lifted either prize.

Jazira remained undefeated in the Pro League for 16 straight months and it is this determination and tactical flexibility that bodes well for his latest challenge in the Garden City.

Successive UAE championships have understandably heightened expectation at Al Ain, and Braga's arrival suggests continued domestic dominance.

Al Ahli may have emerged last season as genuine rivals and have since recruited the man who masterminded Al Ain's 10 and 11th top-flight titles, but Olaroiu's successor has the experience and the resources to buffet their threat.

The job at Jazira took three years to bloom, but Braga, 60, begins his reign already with the country's finest squad at his disposal.

He will not have to recruit a Ricardo Oliveira, a Bare or a Matias Delgado, although he displayed his transfer-market acumen when acquiring these players in consecutive summers. However, Omar Abdulrahman's future remains uncertain and the playmaker's presence is fundamental to aspirations of supremacy.

Braga's propensity for attacking football will also suit the UAE's most vociferous supporters, who are sure to look past Olaroiu's acrimonious departure when a first glimpse of their latest coach is provided in the coming days.

That old tracksuit would swallow up many a manager; Braga, though, promises to wear it well.


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