x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The Al Ahli coach is unconcerned by managerial situation at former club, while Al Shabab's Marcos Paqueta says his side are not playing at '100 per cent' despite winning their opening two Arabian Gulf League games.

Cosmin Olaroiu has seen his Al Ahli side win their opening two Arabian Gulf League fixtures, while title rivals Al Ain have already tasted defeat in their first fixture of the 2013/14 season. Sarah Dea / The National
Cosmin Olaroiu has seen his Al Ahli side win their opening two Arabian Gulf League fixtures, while title rivals Al Ain have already tasted defeat in their first fixture of the 2013/14 season. Sarah Dea / The National

DUBAI // Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ahli manager, says he is unaffected by the impending announcement of Quique Sanchez Flores as the new coach at rivals Al Ain.

The Spaniard, who Olaroiu replaced at the Rashid Stadium earlier this summer, is expected to sign a two-year deal with the UAE champions in the coming days, which will see him join the club Olaroiu recently guided to successive league titles.

Olaroiu departed Al Ain in July, but his successor, Jorge Fossati, was released from his contract 49 days into his tenure.

Sanchez Flores’s arrival is sure to add an extra layer to the enmity that seems to be developing between two of the top teams in this season’s Arabian Gulf League, given the former Ahli coach enhanced his reputation during 20 months in Dubai.

In that time, Sanchez Flores led the club to Etisalat Cup and President’s Cup success, as well as helping Ahli register a runner-up finish in the league. Last season, they were bettered by only Al Ain.

However, even though Sanchez Flores should prove an astute acquisition, Olaroiu played down the potential impact it will have on the destiny this year of the league trophy.

“Quique is a very good coach and we all respect him, but Al Ain are stronger with anyone in charge,” the Romanian said. “Before they brought Quique they did well under [interim coach] Ahmed Abdullah.

“As a team Al Ain are strong now – with the players they have, they can find any solution – so, for us, the competition [between the two teams] is the same. It has not changed anything.”

Ahli have begun the 2013/14 league campaign with two victories from matches against Dubai and Al Wahda, although they have had to rely on late winners in both to secure the three points.

As a result, they share a 100 per cent record with Al Shabab, as Al Ain stumbled in their opener against Marcos Paqueta’s men, losing 3-1.

The Garden City club, though, responded with a hard-fought victory in last Friday’s encounter with Ajman, when a pair of goals from Asamoah Gyan ensured a 2-1 win.

Despite the difficulties caused by Fossati’s recruitment, Al Ain still signed Michel Bastos, Ibrahim Diaky and Khalid Essa.

Olaroiu maintains his former club therefore represent a significant obstacle in Ahli’s quest for a first league crown in five years.

“Al Ain are a high-level competition for us, but the most important thing, for us, is us,” he said. “If we look at what we have to do, and what we can do, then we can match anyone in this competition.

“We don’t look at what’s happening at Al Ain. We look at what we have to do in the future to be at the top.”

They were sentiments echoed by Basheer Saeed, the experienced Ahli defender, who formed an integral part of Sanchez Flores’s starting XI.

The Emirati featured in 38 league matches during the past two seasons, and was a member of the side that defeated Al Shabab in the President’s Cup final in May.

“Of course, Quique is a very strong coach, and he will be a real advantage for Al Ain,” Saeed said. “But that’s Al Ain. I am concentrated only on my own team.”

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Al Shabab are sitting at the top of the Arabian Gulf League table, but coach Marcos Paqueta said his team are not playing at “100 per cent” yet.

Shabab have made their best start in the league since 2007/08, with six points from two games. Last year, they had only five points from their first eight matches.

Paqueta, however, said his team was playing better at the start of last season than this and said: “It is always good to start with a couple of wins, a lot better than starting the season with a few losses.

“But I don’t think we are playing at 100 per cent yet and we are working daily, both on an individual and group level, to raise the levels of our game.

“This year we are not playing as well as we should and can, but thankfully we have opened with two wins.

“This is football, but I think we need to keep working harder to raise our game.” Shabab will next meet Al Jazira, at home, tomorrow.

sports@thenational.ae