Ongoing enmity between coach and former club ramps up emotion and attention for league
Fallout of Olaroiu’s move from Ain to Ahli adds needed sense of drama
In a league that often struggles to produce compelling storylines, one has landed in its lap.
The set-to pitting Cosmin Olaroiu against Al Ain has been unhappy enough to polarise the nation’s football community into rival camps, one sympathising with each party. Among the debris of the coach’s acrimonious departure from the club has emerged an intriguing narrative.
For headline writers and fans of the Arabian Gulf League, it is very much from the rubble to the Ritz.
Granted, the source of the plot is lamentable.
A synopsis: Having guided Al Ain to successive top-flight championships, Olaroiu used one of last season’s final media engagements to pledge his future to the champions, prompting Al Ain to offer an extension to the Romanian’s contract. Yet, in the ensuing negotiations, it seems fair to say a breakdown in communication occurred. From there, and from what we are led to believe, the relationship quickly disintegrated.
That Olaroiu was soon introduced as Al Ahli’s latest coach would have been a particularly bitter pill for his former employers to swallow. An enmity that bubbled and boiled toward the end of the 2012/13 campaign had already strained relations between the country’s top two clubs; now obvious opponents for honours, Ahli had taken the architect of their rivals’ domestic dominance.
The fallout was nuclear. Last month, Al Ain revealed they would sue Olaroiu for €500,000 (Dh2.5 million), claiming he reneged on a written promise to continue at the club. Olaroiu, though, denies signing an improved contract.
A quivering rapport seemed to further unravel in the build-up to Sunday’s much-anticipated resumption of the league, as Olaroiu prepared to welcome his old friends to his new home. As it transpired, he would have to take in from the stands Ahli’s seismic 1-0 triumph, given the FA disciplinary committee’s handing down of a three-match suspension and Dh100,000 fine – the biggest in league history.
His crime? Olaroiu reportedly had made disparaging comments about Al Ain during a news conference in the aftermath of Ahli’s recent League Cup victory against Ajman. He contests the accusation, but the punishment remains.
And so the rancour that took root in June continues to roil. However, while it has at times proved unpleasant, the spiky scenario may be exactly what the league needs. It has added an element of box office, raising stakes and generating emotion and interest.
That much was evident at the Rashid Stadium on Sunday, when the brooding friction felt among both sets of players and supporters – the fans, ironically, kept apart by a giant poster of Olaroiu decked in Ahli’s colours – only enhanced the sense of occasion. To be there, to witness it, felt essential.
Of course, we must be careful not to allow simmering sentiment to seethe. Remember, it was just last April, with the same teams playing on the same ground, when a referee’s assistant was struck with an object thrown from the crowd.
It must serve to warn the current discord of its limits, but it could be argued that this running feud coats the Arabian Gulf League with a blockbuster gloss. The sniping and sneering can frustrate, yet that is part of the fascination, too.
Unquestionably, it has an appeal. Regardless of faction, there is a hero to root for and a villain to rail against. Good versus bad; persecutor against the exploited. Battle lines have been drawn; sides must be taken.
Olaroiu or Al Ain? The man who helped transform a club from relegation candidates to undeniably the UAE’s finest side, or the same club he then turned his back on to join their closest competitors?
Yes, the vendetta and vitriol has sometimes appeared unpalatable, and that should not be ignored, but an unsavoury situation has undoubtedly whetted the appetite for domestic football. Rarely do the eyes of the UAE sporting fraternity focus on what is their premier domestic competition – although palpable cause to do just that could be found in Dubai this past week.
However Olaroiu v Al Ain plays out, and in truth we may never really come to know, there is no denying that it has yielded a compelling subplot to the 2013/14 season.
The Arabian Gulf League might just be all the better for it.
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