x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Pro League: Brazilian Ricardo Oliveira right at home in the UAE

As the Pro League's highest-paid player, Al Jazira striker Ricardo Oilveira asks fans to be patient and assures the future is bright, writes Omar Al Raisi.

Ricardo Oliveira has been a bright spot for Al Jazira since the club’s 2011 banner season. Lee Hoagland / The National
Ricardo Oliveira has been a bright spot for Al Jazira since the club’s 2011 banner season. Lee Hoagland / The National

It was no great surprise when Al Jazira, ahead of the current season, extended the contract of Ricardo Oliveira by two years. Asamoah Gyan may have scored 22 goals in the league, but Oliveira registered 40 goals in 38 matches across four competitions for Jazira, including 12 in their run to the Asian Champions League knockout rounds.

"This shows that Al Jazira has confidence in me to continue," he said. "You never know what happens in the future, but when I finish my contract with Al Jazira, I would like to stay here, if possible. If not, I would 100 per cent like to stay in the UAE Pro League. I love this country, its people and the league."

Despite his sensational 2011/12 season, and Jazira winning their first league championship and the President's Cup twice in his nearly four years in the country, Oliveira has known criticism.

"The journalists and fans criticised me a lot at the start, as no one knew I had a major knee injury in my first training camp here," he said.

He arrived as the most expensive acquisition in Pro League history, at Dh72.5 million, from Real Betis, having previous played for Valencia and AC Milan. But shortly after his Jazira debut in 2009 he was loaned to Sao Paulo in his native Brazil.

"The reason I went back to Brazil was to treat my knee," he said. "I worked hard, got myself into shape and came back here. But it has been great, I love the UAE and the country, I am very happy here, on and off the pitch."

Oliveira, 32, is part of a Jazira side who have been whipsawed by five coaching changes since Abel Braga resigned after the 2011 league championship. The club's most recent recruit was made in February, when the Spaniard Luis Milla replaced Paulo Bonamigo. Milla has endured a difficult start, with only one victory from eight matches.

Oliveira said the new coach needs more time.

"Luis Milla likes to play the ball on the ground, he likes to keep the team compact and close, when we lose the ball, he wants us to pressure the opponent as a team, compact," Oliveira said.

"Even before, with Braga, we kept the ball, played with patience, looking for the right moment, playing the right passes.

"We need time. Every coach and player needs time to adapt and I am sure we can do it with Milla … I don't think Milla's style of play is new to us, as Al Jazira always had a philosophy to play passing and possession football."

He conceded that coaching changes unsettle players.

"It effects too much as a player," he said. "You establish yourself and have the manager's confidence but then a new coach arrives, then you have to start all over again and show the coach what you are capable of and earn that trust from the manager.

"Abel Braga has made history for this club, then after that we had Alejandro Sabella, then Franky Vercauteren, then Caio Junior and Paulo Bonamigo and now we have Luis Milla, all in a very short space of time."

He said as a player he feels some responsibility for the upheaval.

"It's not always the manager's fault," he said. "We as players have to take responsibility on and off the pitch, as the manager can only train us, transmit his ideas and system, but we are the ones who deliver on the pitch."

On coaching changes, he added: "I am sad for that. It's also not good for the image of the club; fans and journalists criticise the club for this and they say Al Jazira are a club who doesn't have patience. So we, as players, have to take responsibility for it.

"Luis Milla will need time; football is a patience game. If Luis Milla is to change anything with us, he needs time."

Jazira were second in the league three consecutive seasons before winning the title in 2011, but they were fourth last season and sit in the same position now, and are out of the President's Cup and seem unlikely to survive the group stage of the Champions League, with only one point from three matches.

The core of the current Jazira side also played for Braga, and the question is being asked: have Jazira's players grown too old to win major trophies?

"We won three titles with Braga – the league, Etisalat Cup and the President's Cup," Oliveira said. "And now we are in the final of the Etisalat Cup this season. So I don't believe that the team is too old to win anything major, because we can."

Oliveira said he has seen steady improvement in the league since he joined, in the second season of the fully professional competition.

"It is much better now," he said. "The organisation has been very professional and the quality has improved a lot.

"I have been here for a long time now and I have never seen low-table teams beating big clubs. For example, Al Ain lost against Dibba Al Fujairah. The quality of the play, this is what has improved here, and I am now enjoying it much, much better."

He has come to see Jazira and Abu Dhabi as his home. "I love the country, and love playing for Al Jazira, as it's one of the best clubs here. I am proud to see the national team play so well; they won the Gulf Cup and that makes me proud.

"You can see the players Al Jazira have produced for the national team, Ali Mabkhout, who for sure is going to be the best striker in the UAE; Ali Kasheif, Khamis Esmail. And Omar Abdulrahman of Al Ain is a wonderful player.

"This makes me very happy to be playing in the UAE. Everyone, from my club, my teammates, fans, have made me feel like family."

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