x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Salem Khamis has ambition to step forward with Al Nasr

Salem Khamis has helped teams find success before. Now with Al Nasr, he hopes to deliver some silverware soon.

Salem Khamis is ready to put his best foot forward in helping Al Nasr take some silverware home this season.
Salem Khamis is ready to put his best foot forward in helping Al Nasr take some silverware home this season.

Last season, with four rounds of the Pro League to play, Al Nasr were still languishing in the bottom half of the table when they took on Baniyas at home.

They had not won in their previous five games and seemed headed for their fifth stalemate in six matches after a barren first half.

Seven minutes into the second session, though, Nasr found an unlikely hero, and his goal turned the tide for his team.

Salem Khamis's first goal of the season gave Nasr a crucial win over the league's second-placed team; he scored again in the next match against Al Dhafra as Nasr closed out the season in a blaze with four consecutive wins to finish third - their best result in this century - and earn their first Asian Champions League spot.

"I am just one of the players in the team," said Khamis modestly when reminded about his role in Nasr's resurgence. "I am just happy to have played my part for the team. Credit should go to the team management for helping me rediscover my confidence and in reaching this level. "

Before that Baniyas game, the 31-year-old midfielder had spent most of his time on the bench since being loaned out by Al Ahli at the start of the season. His impressive performances in the final stretch encouraged Nasr to sign him on a permanent deal.

"His experience is invaluable," said Abdulrehman Mohammed, a member of Nasr's technical committee. "He has been struggling with injuries in the last few years, but when he is fit, Khamis is one of the most attractive players to watch.

"He has a really great touch, one of the best, and his change of speed, those sudden bursts, and tight control can leave defenders stranded."

Any Ahli fan would vouch for those skills. Joining the club at the age of 13, Khamis became a first-team regular in 1999 and eventually rose to wear the captain's armband. He played a prime role in the midfield as Ahli clinched their first league title in 26 years in 2005/06. Another league winners' medal followed in 2009, and later that year, Khamis captained Ahli at the Club World Cup in the capital. He was also part of three President's Cup-winning squads in the past decade.

Things have not been going well for Ahli since those heady years, and Khamis is pained to see the state of a club he calls family.

"I can never forget Al Ahli because they have raised me and taught me football," Khamis said. "I am what I am because of them.

"So I am really saddened by their present situation. They are going through probably their worst phase in history. I have never seen them in this state, and I have grown up in that club.

"I honestly cannot understand why things are going bad for them. They have some really good Emirati players and great foreign players, like Grafite and Luis Jimenez.

"Maybe it is just the spate of injuries that their players seem to be suffering from … I don't know."

Khamis has overcome his struggle with injuries in recent years to become an impact player for Nasr, usually playing second-half cameos.

He is enjoying this role and the success of his team, who are undefeated in five league matches and have collected 13 points from those games.

Nasr, however, have not won a league title since 1986 and their last piece of silverware is the 1989 President's Cup. Khamis dearly hopes they can break that drought soon.

"Nasr have shown a lot of confidence in me by taking me on, and I hope to repay their trust," he said. "I am really looking forward to winning a title with Nasr. We are out of the President's Cup [after a 1-0 first-round loss to Baniyas], but we still have the Pro League and the Etisalat Cup. "If we can continue playing the way we are, keep showing this fighting spirit, then anything can happen."

Khamis also hopes Nasr will be able to give a good impression of UAE football when they make their debut in the Asian Champions League next season. Nasr will be one of the four teams representing the country, and they have been drawn in Group C alongside the Iranian champions Sepahan, Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia and the Qatar league champions Lekhwiya.

"It is true that we do not have the experience of such competitions," Khamis said. "But we have a weapon called ambition. I am not saying we are going there to win the title, but we certainly want to honour UAE football through a good show and learn from the experience of playing the top clubs of the continent.

"Sepahan and Al Ahli have a lot of experience at that level, and Lekhwiya are the Qatari champions, but we will not be easy prey. We will fight and try to get the best possible results."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae