x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Pro League: Luis Jimenez, the Al Ahli faithful, will extend stay

The Chilean midfielder is at home with a stable career in Dubai, something he wants to see at all clubs in UAE.

The Chilean Luis Jimenez, second from right, enjoys good rapport with his teammates, including the local players, at Al Ahli. Jake Badger for The National
The Chilean Luis Jimenez, second from right, enjoys good rapport with his teammates, including the local players, at Al Ahli. Jake Badger for The National

Coming to the end of his second Pro League season Al Ahli's Chilean attacking midfielder, Luis Jimenez, is a veritable veteran, given the manner in which teams chop and change their foreign players.

As such, a man who has plied his trade in Chile, Italy and England is well placed to judge the progress of the top flight in the Emirates, which became fully professional five years ago.

"I think, because the league has just turned pro few years ago, I feel the improvement here every season. Next season, football here will be better for sure," said Jimenez.

"The mentality is getting better and all teams are trying to bring in good players, not the ones who want to just come for the money and have a good vacation here.

"Normally when you say Dubai, you don't think about football, you think about vacation, but they are trying to change this mentality and sign good young prospective players."

Jimenez, 28, says the UAE had a reputation for signing players at the end of their careers looking for a final payday, but that is changing.

"It's also not the league or clubs' fault, because if a player is good and playing in Europe, he would prefer to play in Europe and skip the UAE. So clubs here are left with fewer options," he said.

"I mean the clubs here cannot think of having Cristiano [Ronaldo] or [Lionel] Messi, so they will have to opt for young, European or South American players.

"The league has been professional for just five years, so for sure it's just the start, as you can see there are less attendance in the stadiums compared to Italy, England or Chile.

"I think Al Ain is the team with most fans during the games but in most of the stadiums, we don't see much fans really."

The short-term attitude of some clubs hinders progress, according to Jimenez.

It is not uncommon for clubs to sign a player in the summer and sell him come the January transfer window. "The clubs should have stability, as I see many players come here and play for six months and then the club changes them. So there should also be stability in terms of players, that's very important," he said.

It is that desire for stability that saw Jimenez reject an offer from Italian Serie A club Sampdoria last season. The Chilean wants to stay at Ahli beyond his four-year contract which expires in 2015.

"I have now two more years left in my contract, I have not received any offers from any Pro League clubs or any other club, but I have heard some rumours here and there," he said.

"But I am very happy here and I want to play here after my contract is up. I hope Al Ahli wants the same, I will stay here for a long time. If I get any offers, I will say no to them, but it would be another case if Al Ahli doesn't want me, then I will surely consider offers from other Pro League clubs."

The past few months have been filled with speculation that Ahli manager Quique Sanchez Flores, who arrived in Dubai at the same time as Jimenez, will not renew his contract and return to Spain.

Jimenez is hopeful that will not be the case.

"Quique is a great man, he has great tactical knowledge of the game and we always get to learn something new, and see football from a completely new angle," he said.

"I hope he stays, and I can say that all players want the same."

Ahli travel to Al Dhafra on Saturday for the final game of the league season, before the President's Cup final against Al Shabab at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

Ahli have second place in the league wrapped up, and with it a likely Asian Champions League spot for next season. However, they are still eight points off Al Ain, despite the champions' poor run of form since wrapping up the title.

"Al Ain are our main rivals and they deserve to be champions. They have been the most consistent team and play some great football," said Jimenez. "I think with some more improvements and some new players, we can go on and take them over next season"

Ahli's Asian Champions League participation will depend on the number of slots allocated to the UAE when the Asian Football Confederation meets in November. Winning the President's Cup, however, would guarantee their spot.

Jimenez believes Ahli will rise to the challenge of the competition should they get there.

"The Champions League is a different competition than the Pro League. We always play good football against big teams, but our difficulty is against small teams. They come to our ground and only defend with 10 players and it gets difficult to break them down," he said.

"For example against Al Jazira, we had two shots on target and we scored twice, and against Shabab, we had 21 shots but conceded twice with two mistakes and we lost."

Off the pitch, Jimenez has a good a rapport with his Emirati teammates.

"It's good to know the local players here, to learn more on the culture here, I love the culture here and I have great relation with all of them. We sometimes go out for dinner or to each others house to hang out, talk and have a good laugh.

"Last summer we went home to Chile for vacation with Tareq Ahmed and Ahmed Khamis, we had a great time there"

Despite his calm, polite demeanour, Jimenez has one blot on his record after he famously head butted a referee last season, for which his received a three-match ban.

He says the incident was out of character.

"I don't even remember that incident anymore, it was in the heat of the moment and I have apologised to the referee, the officials, my teammates and the club right after."

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