x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Arabian Gulf League: Olaroiu says he has what he wants at Al Ahli

New coach excited to finally get back on training pitch to evaluate squad before looking to transfer market, writes John McAuley.

New Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu, in red, watches as he gets acquainted with his team during the first training session. The Romanian says now is the time he must understand how his players ‘play and how they train ... I have to change some things but not totally’.
New Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu, in red, watches as he gets acquainted with his team during the first training session. The Romanian says now is the time he must understand how his players ‘play and how they train ... I have to change some things but not totally’.

After the conjecture and the controversy, Cosmin Olaroiu was back in his favourite guise, cautiously appraising a new flock, swathed in the sternest of summer evenings.

A smattering of supporters were braving the elements, too, lined up alongside the training pitch at the Rashid Stadium, eager to catch a glimpse of the man who has traded a double title-winning team for a side who now represent the champions' chief adversaries.

Summer temperatures aside, little wonder that sweat blanketed his brow.

This, after all, was not a season taking root at the Garden City, but the commencement of what Al Ahli expect to be an unprecedented blossoming under the direction of rival Al Ain's former architect.

Preparations for the inaugural Arabian Gulf League have officially begun. Olaroiu's emphasis is solely on what lies ahead.

The past, as he stated in a candid introductory news conference on Monday, is exactly that.

"For me, the greatest pleasure that I have is to be on the pitch and training the team," said the Romanian after a second session with his latest side. "It's a pleasure for me to do this job and I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to do it.

"But it's more exciting because it's the first training with new players, a new squad, a new team. You now start to know the players, their qualities, how to reach them and understand them for the future. It's now I have to be very concentrated." Focusing the mind would not have come easily these past few weeks.

In choosing not to accept Al Ain's offer of a contract extension - his current deal still had a year to run, anyway - Olaroiu was always going to disappoint the country's staunchest support. In defecting, as they see it, to Ahli, he has irrevocably angered the beast.

The motives and machinations of the move will long be pored over, although some suggest the rumoured €4 million per season (Dh19.3m) was a strong enough incentive.

Fate has determined the clamour will only climb as Olaroiu's first competitive match at Ahli draws nearer: the Super Cup clash on August 30 against Al Ain.

Presently, though, the coach is keen simply to settle into new surroundings. Yet having spent two seasons as UAE football's master tactician, perhaps the terrain is not as alien as it feels.

Olaroiu is at an advantage because he more than recognises the resources now at his disposal.

"This is very important," he said.

"It's important when you go in and find a new team, because usually until you know everyone, and the way they play and how they train, it's difficult. But I was here the last two years, so I know them."

Despite the relative familiarity, Olaroiu will want to carve his own imprint on an impressive Ahli squad.

Since claiming a runner-up finish in last season's Pro League and then adding the President's Cup crown, the Dubai club have added proven quality in Hugo Viana, Humaid Abbas and Esam Dhahi.

Given Luis Jimenez's fresh qualification as the side's Asian player, Ahli can recruit another expatriate. Potentially, it could be the decisive blow in Al Ain's domestic derailment. However, Olaroiu insists he must first assess the players currently on his roster.

For example, Walid Hussain, the reserve team midfielder, has been a surprise highlight of the opening training sessions.

"It's vital to evaluate what we have, the potential - collectively and individually - and only after can we go and see what we need [in the transfer market] and what we're going to take," said Olaroiu before giving a nod to the work done at the club by Quique Sanchez Flores, his predecessor. "I have to change some things, but not totally, not huge things. The players did a good job last season and they were prepared well. But everyone has his own philosophy and we need good motivation and to feel more what it is that we're doing. That is most important for me."

So Ahli embark on what would have been considered Mission Improbable at the close of the 2012/13 campaign.

Olaroiu, refusing to be stifled by the harsh July heat and his combustible conveyance across clubs, is inevitably enthused about the challenge ahead.

"Of course," he said. "This is what I wanted."

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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