x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The Pro League schedule is in need of a major rethink

The Asian Football Confederation's criteria require the Pro League season to last 10 months, but that is impractical in these weather conditions and not possible with 12 teams.

Al Ain manager's Cosmin Olaroiu wished every Pro League could be as exciting as the 2-2 draw with Al Wasl.
Al Ain manager's Cosmin Olaroiu wished every Pro League could be as exciting as the 2-2 draw with Al Wasl.

As Cosmin Olaroiu met the media last Saturday after Al Ain's riveting 2-2 draw at Al Wasl, he talked excitedly about the level of the game and the 10,000-plus fans who attended. The Romanian wished every Pro League match could be like that.

A few minutes later, Olaroiu's tone changed as he expressed his frustration with the scheduling.

Boasting a comfortable, eight-point lead over the champions Al Jazira, Al Ain have one hand on the trophy, but they have to wait for the remaining four matches, which stretch until May 27, before they can celebrate their 10th league title.

Olaroiu is unhappy about the long gap between matches and fears his players' focus could wane.

"If the game comes quickly then they know they are under pressure," he said. "But now we risk losing concentration and treating training or the games easy. Now we have two weeks' training before the next game and it's not going to be easy."

The Pro League match at Wasl is the only competitive game Al Ain have played in April and they will play just once more this month - against Al Jazira on the 27th. Two of the final three matches of the league will take place in the first 11 days of May, but the final comes 16 days later.

"In December or January we had nine games in seven weeks and now we play once a fortnight," Olaroiu said. "It's better for us if we play every week but that's the programme and we have to deal with it."

Al Ain could have been playing every week had they finished in the top four last season as they would have been busy in the Asian Champions League. Finishing fifth or sixth would have given them the right to play in the Gulf Clubs Championship.

These two tournaments are responsible for the present gaps between the Pro League fixture list, but the grievance against the schedule is not new.

Al Ahli's Quique Sanchez Flores and Al Nasr's Walter Zenga have talked about it in the past. There are just too many stops and starts.

Al Ain have played 30 matches in 212 days since the start of the season in September; that is an average of one match every seven days. Al Jazira have played 36 matches in 216 days for an average of a game every six days.

In England, Premier League leaders Manchester United have played 46 matches in 246 days, giving them an average of 5.3. In Spain, Real Madrid have played 50 matches this season in 231 days, at an average of 4.6. Italy's AC Milan have played 46 games in 215 days, which means once every 4.6 days. Both Italy and Spain have a 20-day winter break.

Closer to home, Saudi Arabia have a 14-team league, which is two more than the UAE, and they have already completed their season, playing 26 rounds in 218 days. The 12-team Qatar Stars League is also finished, decided in 211 days.

The Pro League, however, will continue until the end of next month, a span of 226 days, with players and teams battling in what likely will be harsh conditions to decide their final positions in the competition.

It is not pleasant viewing and you have to pity the players, who have to run around for 90 minutes when just sitting in the stands is hugely uncomfortable at times.

So the Professional League Committee need to have a rethink over their schedule.

The Asian Football Confederation's criteria require the season to last 10 months, but that is impractical in these weather conditions and not possible with 12 teams.

Perhaps, as it is being suggested, they could increase the number of teams to 14 for next season. Or they could move the Etisalat or President's Cup to the later half of the season, and play the bulk of the Pro League in the first half. At least that would ensure continuity.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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