x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Carlo Nohra says football is the 'highest priority' at Al Ain

The new chief executive sees Al Jazira as the role model for increasing the club's profitability and crowds.

Carlo Nohra, before joining Al Ain, was the chief executive of the Pro League.
Carlo Nohra, before joining Al Ain, was the chief executive of the Pro League.

Carlo Nohra has returned to domestic football as the chief executive of the Al Ain club, which he intends to take on a path leading to financial profitability.

"The focus will very much be on marketing and promotions and the revenue side so we reach a point where the club is standing on its own two feet," he said yesterday. "It's a long-term objective, but we will give it a start."

As chief executive of the Pro League, a position he gave up soon after the league was taken over by the Football Association in June, Nohra often stressed the need for the UAE's football clubs to bring in as much money as they spend. He conceded that the process could "take 30 years".

He said Al Ain's first goal is to produce a more attractive football side; the sport is by far the highest-profile activity backed by Al Ain Football Club LLC, though the club supports several sports teams and recreational facilities.

Last season, Al Ain flirted with relegation before finishing 10th in the 12-team league.

"We need to deliver on our product, and that delivery process comes on match day. That is my highest priority," he said.

Football operations fall under his jurisdiction but he will not be directly involved in signing players or hiring coaches, he said.

His impact likely will be seen in increasing the "value of the Al Ain marque", which may include charging fans for tickets to matches and making available for sale food and drink on match days. Al Ain, like all domestic clubs, have little or no concessions on sale at home matches and rarely charges direct fees for spectators.

He said that Al Jazira have shown what sort of crowds can be drawn through aggressive marketing and promotions. "Even when I was CEO of the league I used them as an example, and it's incumbent for all the clubs in the league to follow suit," he said.

He said he had "several opportunities" to work with clubs in the top flight but believes Al Ain offer the most opportunity. He was hired by the new board, which is chaired by Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Khalid. Nohra began his duties on October 1.

Al Ain are the most decorated club in the country, with nine league championships and an Asian Champions League title.

"It's a well-supported club with quite devoted fans," he said. "They are fans but we also need to treat them as customers with rights. They are the lifeline of the club."

Nohra, 43, and a native of Lebanon, was the director of competitions for the Asian Football Confederation before taking charge of the Pro League in January of 2010.

He said he and his family have moved from Dubai to Al Ain, "and I am quite pleased about it. It's good to step into your car and not deal with a lot of traffic".

poberjuerge@thenational.ae