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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Balancing act in the quest for silver in UAE Pro League

History has shown that top-flight clubs here are unlikely to win multiple trophies in a single season, even from a league with only 12 teams.
The words "double" and "treble" rarely come up when discussing UAE football. Never mind any of those imposing "uples" - the quadruple (AC Milan 1994), the quintuple (Inter 2010) or the sextuple (Barcelona 2009).

With the Asian Champions League (ACL) having kicked off this week, we are reminded of the potential for a UAE double or a treble, but also of the difficulty in achieving them.

History has shown that top-flight clubs here are unlikely to win multiple trophies in a single season, even from a league with only 12 teams. Which would seem to indicate that what is now the Pro League has a generous dollop of parity. Or, perhaps, that no club have the depth of talent to devote their full energies on multiple fronts.

Since the 1990/91 league season was cancelled because of the Gulf War, only Al Wasl, in 2007, have won the league's top two prizes - the league and the President's Cup - in the same season. And that Wasl team was coached by the Brazilian veteran Ze Mario and led on the pitch by the prolific Brazil-Emirates partnership of Anderson and Saeed al Kas, who scored 34 goals between them.

Al Ain are the only club to have won three trophies in the same year, capturing the President's Cup, the Etisalat Cup and the Super Cup in 2009 but, tellingly, not the league. Al Ain supporters probably have fonder memories of one of their three doubles - when they won the league and the ACL in 2003.

Both Al Jazira and Al Wahda still could win five trophies this year.

Both sides play in the President's Cup semi-finals later this month. Jazira lead the league, and Wahda are in the semi-finals of the Etisalat Cup.

Each could, at least in theory, also win the Super Cup, the ACL and the Fifa Club World Cup, making for a quintuple that might make heads here explode at so much riches in one calendar year.

Surely, either club would be happy with any two trophies they could lay hands upon.

"Every club that gets into the position we're in would like to try to win everything," said Phil Anderton, the chief executive of Jazira. "But what you don't want to end up doing is being so desperate to win everything that you don't achieve any of it."

That means prioritising, a domestic reality since the founding of the nation.

"For us, it's the league and the President's Cup," Anderton said, which makes perfect sense considering that Jazira have never won either trophy.

Jazira opened ACL play on Tuesday night with their best line-up and settled for a scoreless draw against an Al Ghafar team, from Qatar, that parked the bus in front of the goal. It is fair to wonder how often Jazira will run their first XI into the ground with so much else to play for.

Last year, Wahda were chasing a league title and, when they fell behind in the ACL, they stopped giving it their full attention, the coach Josef Hickersberger has conceded. Wahda went out at the group stage, but they won the league.

That wasn't the first time a Pro League team turned their back on the ACL to focus on league goals.

In 2009, Sharjah dropped out of the ACL with two matches remaining to concentrate on avoiding relegation from the Pro League. They stayed up.

More trophies than ever before are out there to be won, but don't expect domestic sides to knock themselves out chasing more than the one or two nearest and dearest.

Anderton said: "If you try to win every single thing, to put your best players on the field for every match in a season that began in August and ends in June, at a time of year when the temperatures are going up, I think you will find you don't have the depth to tolerate the strain."

Yes, a sextuple is possible for a UAE side. But a double would be just fine, thank you.

 

poberjuerge@thenational.ae