x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Sharjah look for redemption

New coach Cajuda is being cautious and after last season's Champions League debacle, the club are focus on improving their league form.

Sharjah's Abdullah Suhail, centre, hurdles an Ajman challenge during a pre-season friendly.
Sharjah's Abdullah Suhail, centre, hurdles an Ajman challenge during a pre-season friendly.

DUBAI // Things are looking up at Sharjah after the shame of last season. In the first year of professional football in the UAE, the club just avoided relegation from the Pro League and earned heavy penalties from the Asian Football Confederation for pulling out midway through the Champions League.

That decision brought plenty of infamy for the club, but it also led to many positive developments inside the corridors of the Sharjah stadium. Those days of uncertainty are now a faded memory with a new club board taking shape and the team looking promising in pre-season friendlies. Manuel Cajuda, the Portuguese coach charged with turning the team's fortunes around, is happy with the way things are going so far, but he is not reading much into the pre-season success.

"The important thing is to win official games, not friendly matches," said the 58-year-old. "There is still a lot of hard work ahead before the start of the season. Of course winning friendlies is good for your confidence, it shows that you are moving in the right direction." Cajuda may sound a bit cautious, but he has valid reasons to be. The club's recent history, perhaps, keeps him from making any lofty predictions. Sharjah have won just two trophies in the past 14 seasons - the 2003 President's Cup and the league title in 1996.

"Everybody has been talking about a every visible change in the Sharjah team and I am happy about that," added Cajuda. "I take it as a compliment and hope we can continue this way and make our fans happy. "I am satisfied with this change for the better, but there is still a long road ahead, especially considering our poor performance in the last season. Looking at the team's performance last season you can see that we conceded 45 goals and had just one win from a stretch of 12 games. That is why we need to keep working hard and make sure we do not repeat that."

During the pre-season friendlies, Sharjah have looked very convincing in their wins over Al Ahli and Ajman. The Iraqi striker Mustafa Karim, who arrived from Egyptian club Ismaily, has looked sharp and has formed a good partnership up front with the Brazilian Marcelinho. To strengthen the leaky defence, Cajuda has brought in another Brazilian, Rafael Ramos from Brazilian club Figueirense. "I don't want to talk about individuals, I prefer to speak about the whole group," said Cajuda, refusing to discuss his foreign acquisitions.

"Individuals alone cannot win championships for you. "They can play a great game, score a brilliant goal - but to win the league, you need the whole team to play as one and that is what I am trying to do here. "The important thing is that the players are thinking before passing the ball or making a move." Cajuda, however, warns Sharjah fans they might have to wait a bit longer to celebrate a league triumph. Success does not come overnight," he said. "Last season, Sharjah won just six of their 22 games and lost nine in a row. To bounce back from that and win the league is not possible. Miracles do not happen in football. What I can promise is a better performance than last season."

arizvi@thenational.ae