x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Reality check for league strugglers Ajman

Abdul Wahab Abdul Qadir has Ajman playing an entertaining brand of football, which they have found success with in Etisalat Cup matches and are hoping to carry that over to Pro League games, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Abdul Wahab Abdul Qadir has his Ajman side, in orange, playing an entertaining style of football.
Abdul Wahab Abdul Qadir has his Ajman side, in orange, playing an entertaining style of football.

 

It is rare for a football coach, particularly in this part of the world, to be as critical of his players after a victory, as Abdul Wahab Abdul Qadir was this past Sunday, especially if that win came on the road against a team of the standing of Al Ahli.

The Ajman coach was unimpressed by his players' efforts in their Etisalat Cup tie, and used words such as "coma" and "zombie" to describe their state on the pitch in the 2-1 success.

"This is one of the worst games we have played since the beginning of the season," Abdul Qadir said after the match.

Harsh words, you might think, given that it was Ajman's first win in four matches.

But winning ugly is not part of the Iraqi's coaching philosophy.

Win or lose, he prides himself on playing entertaining football.

"The most important thing for me to is to offer real football, to play in a way that entertains the fans, whether they are home fans or away," Abdul Qadir said before the start of this season.

"It is important that we fight tooth and nail in every game, like it is a championship final, without looking at the name of the opposition."

With the exception of that last game against Ahli, Ajman have rarely let their coach down.

They have played their hearts out, earning the respect and praise of Pro League rivals.

"I enjoy playing against Ajman," Cosmin Olaroiu, the coach of champions Al Ain, said after his 4-1 win there last month.

"They are a team that is always trying to do something, create something. They are not content with just sitting back and that is what makes matches against them to tough and challenging.

"They are a team with a remarkable playing mentality and have the strategy of how to learn and take advantage of their rivals' mistakes."

Many other Pro League coaches have expressed similar views, from Quique Sanchez Flores at Ahli to Walter Zenga at Al Nasr.

Diego Maradona, who was coach of Al Wasl last season, said he spent a sleepless night ahead of their match against Ajman last season.

"I was up at six o'clock in the morning watching Ajman videos," Maradona said. "They have a good goalkeeper and they are a well organised team. They have some good midfielders and their No 10 is a very good player with very Latin American skills. He's very dangerous. It's been keeping me up all night thinking of a solution to stop their number 10."

Unfortunately for Ajman, the No 10 who impressed Maradona so much is not available for them this season.

Karim Kerkar played the first two matches of the campaign but an ankle injury has ruled the Algerian out for four months and the club were forced to bring in the Moroccan Abdessamad Oujaki as replacement.

Kerkar's injury could be a big blow for Ajman.

He was one of the top performers for them last season with his dynamism and flair in the midfield. The club will also be missing Hassan Maatouk's flamboyance as the Lebanese is now with Al Shaab after signing with Emirates in the summer.

Officials at the club, however, are confident these changes will not hurt the team. They point to Ibrahima Toure's departure to the French club Monaco in January after an explosive start last season.

"Toure achieved remarkable success with the team and when he left for Monaco, most people thought we will be affected by his departure," said Khalifa Essa Jarman, the chairman of the club's board of directors. "But there was no decline in the team's performance as all the players were up to the responsibility entrusted to them."

Abdul Qadir's keen eye for talent has also helped in establishing Ajman in the top division. Last season he brought in Toure from Iran and Maatouk.

This time he has Founeke Sy, who scored 20 goals in 32 matches for the Iranian club, Sanat Naft, last season. The Malian has looked as good an investment as Toure with seven goals in five matches up to now. He scored four on his UAE debut, an Etisalat Cup match against Dibba Al Fujairah.

Ajman are top of their group in that competition, but they have just one point from three Pro League matches. However, Sanad Hamid, the team director, says there will be no pressure on his team when they take on Wasl at home tonight as the Pro League resumes after a 15-day break.

"We have not had poor results if you consider that we have played against Al Ain and Al Jazira in our first three matches, and now we are playing Al Wasl," he said.

"All these teams are championship contenders and I believe playing against these strong teams at the start of the season is better, even if we lose, because we are confident we can get better results in coming matches."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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