x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

United we stand is Ain's motto

Al Ain are the most successful Emirati club. They have won the league a record nine times.

What tricks Jorge 'The Magician' Valgivia has up his sleeve remains to be seen.
What tricks Jorge 'The Magician' Valgivia has up his sleeve remains to be seen.

Al Ain are the most successful Emirati club. They have won the league a record nine times and capped it with the inaugural Asian Champions League under the current national team coach Bruno Metsu. To have the Frenchman's signature after he famously led Senegal to the World Cup quarter finals in 2002 was a massive accomplishment when several countries and leading clubs were after him. Metsu led Ain to the inaugural Asian Champions League crown in 2003 and won two league titles and the President's Cup during a two-and-half-year stint before breaking contract for an offer from Qatari club Al Gharafa.

Having won the league for a record three consecutive seasons they finished second to Al Wahda in 2004-05. Since then they have struggled to be in the top bracket, but a change is expected under Winfried Schaefer. The 58-year-old German, who took charge of them in the middle of last season, knows what success and failure means. Having led Al Ahli to the league title in 2006, he was relieved halfway through last year after a string of poor results.

Schaefer said: "I know we still have a lot to do and things to improve on for the Pro League,. But I have confidence in all the players and believe that they are strong enough to be at the top from the very beginning. "We have prepared well and I see a lot of improvement from last season. The Pro League has drawn some very good signings and have made the clubs stronger. This is the best that could have happened to improve football in the country.

"What is so special about this competition for me is that more and more youngsters get the opportunity to be noticed. This in turn will provide a good pool of players to the national squad." Ain's big signing for the season is the mercurial Chile international midfielder Jorge Valdivia. Nicknamed El Mago (The Magician), he was signed for ?17 million (Dh90.5m) under a four-year-contract from the Brazilian club Palmeiras.

He teams up with the Moroccan international Soufiane Alloudi and the Brazilian Andre Diaz in the attack. Alloudi retains his place and Diaz moved from Dubai's Al Wasl. They also have a couple of under-23 professionals, Senegalese Andre Sangahor and Prince Cusie from Togo. But the big setback for them is the vaccum left by the midfielders Subait Khater and Helal Saeed. The two UAE internationals have crossed over to Al Jazira.

Ain have four local signings in the UAE international Abdulla Malallah (Emirates), Darwish Ahmed (Al Nasr), Mohannad al Enazi (Al Dhafra) and Saif Mohammed (Al Shaab), for whom the club shelled out a domestic record Dh10m. Schaefer, who led Cameroon to the African Cup of Nations in 2002 and the World Cup in the same year, felt he has a good influx of players to choose from. He said: "Some have joined the squad late and it will take a few games for them to adapt. However, that shouldn't prevent us from trying to win every match, and we need to do that from the start."

The coach also stressed his feelings on on team work saying: "We need the efforts of every player on the pitch and only as a team we can move forward. Valdiva, Diaz and Alloudi are very good players but they won't be as good as they are if they don't get the support of the others." Besides the local signings, Schaefer will have two solid men standing between the posts, Waleed Salem and Motaz Abdulla, who were the No 1 and No 2 in Metsu's squad at one time, and will be trying to get his attention again with their good performances. apassela@thenational.ae apassela@thenational.ae Club information: Based: Al Ain Ground: Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium Capacity: 12,000 Year formed: 1968 Colours: Purple and White Captain: Humaid Fakher Chairman: Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan Coach: Winfried Schaefer Nickname: Al Zaeem (The Chieftain) Tel: 03-7222777 Last season: League: Finished sixth in the Etisalat League Honours: Asian Champions League - winner 2003, quarter finalist 2004, finalist 2005, quarter finalist 2006. League winners 1976-77, 80-81, 83-84, 92-93, 97-98, 99-2000, 01-02, 02-03, 03-04. President's Cup winners 98-99, 2000-01, 04-05, 05-06. Transfers in: Saif Mohammed, Abdulla Malallah, Darwish Ahmed, Mohanned al Enazi. Transfers out: Subait Khater, Helal Saeed.