x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Plenty still left to accomplish for Al Alhi with two finals and ACL in play

Ahli coach wants new UAE champions to retain focus as they continue to fight on three fronts. Olaroiu also refutes suggestions he is the best coach to have managed in the UAE.

Cosmin Olaroiu, the prime director in Al Ahli's title run in the Arabian Gulf League, points out that the club is not done collecting silverware.  Sarah Dea / The National
Cosmin Olaroiu, the prime director in Al Ahli's title run in the Arabian Gulf League, points out that the club is not done collecting silverware. Sarah Dea / The National

DUBAI // With the Arabian Gulf League title secure, Al Ahli have four matches to transform an already successful season into an exceptional one, according to coach Cosmin Olaroiu.

The newly crowned UAE champions on Thursday sealed a sixth top-flight trophy, and their first since 2009, when they defeated Al Wasl 2-1 to open an unassailable 15-point lead at the top of the standings.

Now Ahli can look at other competitions.

On Tuesday they host Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the Asian Champions League, where three points for the team that tops Group C will guarantee the UAE champion’s progression to the last 16.

Should they falter against Hilal they will have another opportunity to qualify by winning against Al Sadd in Qatar on April 22.

Ahli are nearer to two other trophies, though, as they face Al Jazira next weekend in the Arabian Gulf League Cup final, before taking on Al Ain in May’s President’s Cup showpiece.

“We have four more important games: two finals and the two Asian Champions League,” Olaroiu said. “But it is step-by-step. We have to look only to the next step and that is Hilal.

“We can’t celebrate too much, but keep the consistency. We have the championship now, but then there is another and another objective, like always.”

Olaroiu stressed the importance of ensuring his players are sufficiently prepared for the challenges ahead, but he emphasised how difficult a task that will be given Ahli’s recent schedule.

The Hilal encounter is their ninth match in the past month and Olaroiu conceded Grafite, his captain, has admitted to feeling the strain of the recent programme.

The manner in which Ahli secured the AGL, though, provides Olaroiu additional confidence.

The club’s route to the title was everything but straightforward, with long-term injuries to key players, such as goalkeeper Majed Naser, at its outset.

In December, Olaroiu was handed a six-month touchline ban because of comments made regarding Al Ain and he is involved in a legal case against his former club. Al Ain claim the Romanian reneged on a written agreement last summer to extend his contract there.

The off-pitch complications continued in January, when Ahli were docked three points for fielding an ineligible player against Al Dhafra.

“I don’t think any team has had the same problems as us,” Olaroiu said. “In the first game, we lose our goalkeeper and central defender, then have a coach who maybe could go to the jail, who is suspended six months, and we are deducted three points. To arrive 15 points ahead of second place is not a small thing.”

In landing the league crown, Olaroiu becomes the first manager to guide a team to three consecutive titles. He refused, though, to accept he is the finest coach the domestic league has seen.

“I cannot say I’m the best,” he said. “Everyone does their job in his own way. To be the best is a long way away – now we have finished the league we look to the next four matches.

“We have the confidence and more support to go forward. I hope we continue in the same way.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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