x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Only so much can Cannavaro do at Al Ahli

It was unrealistic to expect Al Ahli's fortunes to transform just by signing Fabio Cannavaro.

Fabio Cannavaro has not been able to shore up the Al Ahli defence despite all his years of experience.
Fabio Cannavaro has not been able to shore up the Al Ahli defence despite all his years of experience.

However much one tries to analyse the contributions of an individual player in a football team, it does not work outside the collective. Any team can sign a high-profile player or two, but they cannot win games without the help of others.

Fabio Cannavaro, the most-decorated player to be signed by a Pro League club, is an example of how difficult it is to marshal a defence without a first-rate supporting cast.

The former Italy captain and Fifa World Player of the Year, now 37, made headlines when he signed a two-year deal with Al Ahli during the summer. Cannavaro was one of several high-priced acquisitions made by the ambitious Dubai club in their bid to return to the summit of the Pro League.

However one evaluates Cannavaro's performance, Ahli have been, at best, mediocre in defence. The club have surrendered 1.7 goals per match; six of the other 11 league sides have been stingier.

Cannavaro's Ahli have, however, risen in the table. A dismal eighth last season, the club currently lies third in the table with 17 points, 12 behind leaders Al Jazira, with a game in hand. If Ahli can maintain that perch, a precious berth in the 2012 Asian Champions League would be forthcoming.

If Cannavaro was signed to help transform Ahli into a destination for the nation's football fans, that has been less of a success. Ahli's last Pro League home match, against surprise contenders Baniyas, drew only 1,713 people, well below the league average.

The Italian undoubtedly gained attention in the international media for Ahli, Dubai and the Pro League. It terms of publicity, his two-year contract, worth as much as Dh22.5 million per season, may have been a good investment.

Fahad Ali, the former UAE captain and defender, feels it is unfair to point a finger at Cannavaro for the team's defensive lapses or their failure to attract big crowds.

"The crowd at every game is poor and that has got nothing to do with Cannavaro," Ali said. "One player will not attract the crowds. But if Ahli was looking at some international headlines, then they have already got that when signing the player. The games are followed on television and the media, and Cannavaro is always the highlight, whether he does well or otherwise.

"On his performances, I think he has done pretty well. You can't hold him responsible for the goals Ahli have conceded because it is a collective effort and if they are leaking out goals it's the team, not just one player.

"It is not unusual for the mistakes of a defender to be more highlighted than those of a forward, where a goal can overshadow all his flaws. It is cruel but that's how it works.

"A team should be built on collective balance and Cannavaro is a vital ingredient on any team."

Ali believes the central defender is still a force on the pitch.

"There is no doubt on Cannavaro's abilities," he said. "He is just out of the top-flight competitions and still as good as he would play for Italy or Juventus.

"I think those playing around Cannavaro will learn a good deal of his experience and that's what Ahli is trying to do."

Cannavaro has a formidable CV prior to coming to Ahli. He is the most-capped player for Italy with 136 appearances. He has played in three World Cups and captained twice, in 2006 and 2010.

He began his professional career with Napoli in 1992 and had spells with Parma, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid. He returned to Turin for one season, 2009/2010.

When Cannavaro signed with Ahli, he said: "I accepted Ahli's offer because that's the best for me and my family. Ahli are investing for the future. I hope we will put all our efforts into getting better results and good achievements. I came here to use all my experience and help the younger players."

The Italian's first game in the Pro League was something he probably would like to forget. Ahli were beaten 2-0 away by Al Dhafra and Cannavaro was booked in the eighth minute of his Pro League career.

However, at the halfway stage of the league, Ahli are in a reasonable position, and it will be interesting to see how the second half of the season pans out. Only the results and their progress come the end of the season will allow for fair judgment on Cannavaro's signing.

apassela@thenational.ae