x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

It is time to put their houses in order

With 99 days remaining before the September 25 kick-off of the 2011/12 Pro League season, several clubs remain unsettled and must already feel time pressing.

A seemingly comfortable 99 days remain before the September 25 kickoff of the 2011/12 Pro League season, but several clubs with unsettled situations in the back room and on the pitch must already feel time pressing.

Sometimes, it gets late early.

If clubs assemble on July 15 and begin training in earnest on August 1, decisions must be made soon if the clubs want to minimise wasted time and energy, and avoid late moves often born of desperation.

In the past month, at least one club, Al Wahda, declared their intention to enter the coming season with essentially the same team that completed the last.

At the other end of the stability spectrum are Al Wasl, who have entrusted Diego Maradona with the task of overhauling their team in a high-profile, high-risk move.

Curiously, Wahda, who are striving for continuity, and Wasl, who are seeking the limelight, each took home 31 points last season. Most sides fall between those extremes, but nearly all have several major decisions unmade or at least unannounced. Al Jazira, who for the second season lost only once in the league, would seem to have the least incentive to change their side, even if they were a bit leaky at the back.

Alejandro Sabella, the Argentine, replaces Brazilian Abel Braga as coach, and takes over the league's most balanced squad, one which ended the season with a productive foreign trio of Matias Delgado, Ricardo Oliveira and Bare.

All three remain contracted to the capital outfit, but a determined club usually can work around that when they feel as if a foreign commitment has not quite worked out.

Al Ahli's Fabio Cannavaro might be thought to fit into that category, after missing five of the final eight rounds through a knee injury, but the 37-year-old Italian told the league's website that he will return to play for the Dubai side in the second season of his contract, reportedly worth up to Dh22.5 million.

Pinga, the Brazilian midfielder, did not impress last season but has two years remaining on his deal. Had he remained in charge, David O'Leary would have recommended replacing all three of the club's foreigners for attacking players. Several Ahli decisions may not be made until they formalise the hiring of Ivan Hasek, the Czech coach who led them to a league title in 2009.

Al Ain have much to do in the wake of the worst season in the history of the club. Cosmin Olaroiu, the Romanian, is the new coach, and his side will include Ignacio Scoccom, the Argentine winger. The other two expatriate slots remain unfilled, though the name of Adrian Mutu, the ageing Romanian forward, has been mooted.

Al Shabab and Al Nasr, the Dubai sides, seem nearly set, going forward with the men who were coaching when last season ended, Paulo Bonamigo and Walter Zenga, respectively.

Each have three useful expats in their ranks with Jociel de Ferreira, Julio Cesar and Carlos Villanueva at Shabab, and Ismail Bangoura, Rodrigo Vergilio and Leonardo Lima at Nasr.

Baniyas appear almost ready. Jorvan Vieira, who shockingly took Kalba above Al Ain in the table late last season, is the new coach, and the multilingual Brazilian has the league's top scorer, the gaunt Andre Senghor, to turn loose, as well as the deepest batch of young Emirati talent in the league.

Dubai, who finished ahead of Al Ain, seem likely to keep coach Junior dos Santos and the French striker, Michael N'dri. They seem open to suggestion on their other two foreign slots.

Wasl have presented Maradona with the Chilean midfielder Edson Puch, but "El Diego" will be able to choose his other two foreigners.

That leaves Francisco Yeste, the crafty Spaniard winger, in limbo. Recent rumours have him going to Al Ain.

Wahda will again be coached by Josef Hickersberger and have Fernando Baiano, the 32-year-old striker, spearheading the attack. Hugo and Magrao need to produce the form of 2010, when they were champions, rather than 2011, when they seemed ageing and injury prone.

Sharjah only this week settled on a coach, the Portuguese Carlos Azenho, and he will build the team around Marcelo Oliveira, the Brazilian striker, whose contract has been extended after he scored 28 of the club's 67 goals over the past two seasons.

Of the two promoted sides, Emirates seem more likely to stay in the top flight. They won two Asian Champions League matches last season and appear ready to move forward with Ghazi Ghrairi, the Tunisian coach, and the North African attacking trio of Nabil Daoudi, Hadj Bougueche and Karim Kerkar.

Emirates also have been reinforced by their merger with Ras al Khaimah, being quietly folded into the bigger RAK side last month.

Ajman are the unknown quantity.

They managed only eight points two seasons ago and would seem to lack the wherewithal to make expensive decisions, though they are likely to pick up journeyman players such as the strikers Boris Kabi, whose Al Dhafra side were relegated, and Alexandre Oliveira, released by Wasl.

The other great unknown, 99 days out, is how the 12 Pro League sides will approach the "plus-one" foreigner issue, if the decision to add one stands. The fourth expat must carry an Asian passport, and a clever decision here could make a significant impact in the table.

As the clock ticks toward 2011/12, club officials presumably are examining interesting players from countries such as Uzbekistan, Iraq, Oman and Syria, competent football nations whose national leagues cannot match wages with the UAE's big clubs.