AGL team guides: Al Ahli — Deposed champions well-equipped to mount title challenge

Ahead of the start to the 2015/16 Arabian Gulf League season, The National will preview the fortunes for each of the UAE’s 14 top-flight clubs. Here, John McAuley examines the 2014 champions Al Ahli as they bid to regain the title.

Playmaker Everton Ribeiro, centre, is set to play a key role in Al Ahli's season. STR / AFP
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Ahead of the start to the 2015/16 Arabian Gulf League season, The National will preview the fortunes for each of the UAE’s 14 top-flight clubs. Here, John McAuley examines the 2014 champions Al Ahli as they bid to regain the title.

Outlook

Al Ahli’s title defence last season was surprisingly abject. Runaway UAE champions the previous campaign, they stumbled throughout to eventually finish seventh.

Ahli scored 35 league goals — the worst of the division’s top eight teams. Yet a run to the latter stages of the Asian Champions League and then to the President’s Cup final confirmed a late-season renaissance, which looks set to continue.

Ahli possess arguably the league’s strongest squad and, with the signing of Lima from Benfica, they have finally addressed its one glaring weakness.

The Brazilian should work brilliantly in tandem with Everton Ribeiro, the high-profile playmaker who began to excel in the final few months of 2014/15. The club expect him to become even more influential this time round.

Wounded by last season’s struggles, Ahli are determined to bounce back. Several off-field factors during the past 12 months hurt, but there is a real sense at the Rashid Stadium that those are now behind them.

Foreign quartet

Kwon Kyung-won: The South Korean was excellent since joining in January, adding a stiffness to midfield and at times in defence, too. A commanding presence and intelligent in possession.

Everton Ribeiro: Signed during the winter, the Brazilian took time to settle but shone towards the end of last season. Skilful, hard-working and can create chances from nothing.

Lima: At last, Ahli have a striker with the talent to compete for the Golden Boot. Signed last month from Benfica, the Brazilian is strong and can finish well off either foot.

Ciel: A broken ankle cut short his 2014/15 season. Ahli have promised to allow the Brazilian to prove himself — when fit, he is a tricky winger with an eye for goal.

Key Emirati players

Ahli are well-stocked with local talent, with several of their players also key members of the UAE national team. Walid Abbas is an experienced defender, while Majed Hassan and Habib Fardan have formed a strong partnership in midfield.

Winger Ismail Al Hammadi is one of the league’s most exciting Emiratis, and Ahmed Khalil has the attributes to help shoot the club to the title. His inconsistency is the only thing holding him back.

Manager

Cosmin Olaroiu, Romania: The best coach in the division, he boasts the honours to reinforce the reputation. In four seasons in the UAE, Olaroiu twice led Al Ain to the league title before guiding Ahli to a first top-flight crown in five years. He commands total respect from his players, though he has a chequered disciplinary record. A huge asset to any club.

The National’s verdict

A squad replete with talent, Ahli should consign last season to distant memory with a prolonged title challenge this campaign. They have the talent, the technical staff and the ambition. Lima’s addition will supply the spearhead to their attack, although doubts remain regarding Ciel’s recovery from injury. A top-three finish is almost guaranteed.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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