Al Ahli's headline-grabbing summer acquisition, will make his UAE debut on August 26 against Al Dhafra in their 10,000-capacity stadium in Madinat Zayed.
No home Pro League debut for Fabio Cannavaro
DUBAI // In Fabio Cannavaro's last match, he wore the captain's armband as Italy played Slovakia in the World Cup on June 24 before 54,000 fans in Johannesburg. In his most recent club appearance, he played for Juventus on May 15 against AC Milan at the San Siro in front of more than 66,000.
His next match will be in more humble surroundings, though the excitement among the fans may be comparable. Cannavaro, Al Ahli's headline-grabbing summer acquisition, will make his UAE debut on August 26 against Al Dhafra in their 10,000-capacity stadium in Madinat Zayed in the Western Region. The Italian, the 2006 World Player of the Year, signed a two-year deal worth as much as Dh22.5 million per year and is one of the biggest attractions of the new season, which starts on August 20 with the Super Cup between Al Wahda, the league champions and Emirate, the President's Cup winners who were later relegated from the top tier.
The draw was made at the Football Association office in Dubai yesterday. The Pro League will kick off on August 26 with Wahda visiting Al Wasl, Al Ain hosting promoted side Dubai, Al Jazira at home against Al Nasr, Baniyas travelling to Al Shabab and Sharjah hosting the other promoted team, Kalba, a town on the Oman border near Fujairah. The fixture list also sees last year's top two - Wahda and Jazira - clash in the Abu Dhabi derby in week 3.
Ahmad Khalifa Hammad, the chief executive of the restructured Ahli club management, would have preferred a Dubai debut for Cannavaro, Italy's most-capped player with 136 appearances before his retirement after the World Cup. "We were wishing that Cannavaro would play his first match at home, but this is the draw and we accept it," he said. Ahli were league champions in 2009, but finished eighth last term in a season which saw four managers at the helm, including Henk ten Cate, a former assistant at Barcelona and Chelsea.
The club's poor finish, as well as their first-round exit at the Club World Cup, led to a restructuring at the club. The new management have handed the task of guiding the team to David O'Leary, the former Arsenal player who has managed Leeds United and Aston Villa in the English Premier League. In addition to Cannavaro and O'Leary, Ahli have also brought in Pinga, the experienced Brazilian striker, from Wahda and shipped out Bare, the Brazilian forward, and Mehrzad Madanchi, the Iranian winger.
Hammad, however, is not expecting a quick fix, describing them as a process that will bear fruit further into the future. "We cannot say now, before the season has even started, that winning the league is our goal because we finished eighth last season," he said. "Realistically, our aim for now is to be one of the top four in the league." firstname.lastname@example.org