AGL team guides: Al Dhafra – Gritty club seeking an infusion of flair

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.

Al Dhafra player Makhete Diop shown during President's Cup match last season against Ajman. Mostafa Reda / Al Ittihad / May 24, 2015
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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, Paul Oberjuerge looks at Al Dhafra.


The club from Madinat Zayed, a city in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region, have become the Stoke City of the Arabian Gulf League: gritty, a side who know who they are, likely to stay up, sure to pull off a few shocks, unlikely to finish in the upper half of the table.

Last season, Dhafra held Al Ain, Al Jazira, Al Ahli, Al Nasr, Al Shabab and Al Wasl, and defeated Jazira and Wasl. If a few of those draws against big clubs had been victories, Dhafra would have finished eighth or ninth, as they generally do, rather than drift to 11th at the end.

Coach Laurent Banide, a Frenchman, got a contract extension, in part because he led a surprise push to the President’s Cup semi-finals, where Dhafra gave Ahli a scare before succumbing 2-0.

Banide is likely to have the club play as they did last season, and the season before: crossing the ball to the Senegalese striker Makhete Diop, at the attacking end, and playing brisk defence.

Diop is key, a tall, powerful forward who has scored 52 goals for Dhafra in three seasons.

Dhafra return one other expat for a fourth season, the Iraqi defender Ahmed Ibrahim.

The Spaniard David Barral has been recruited to support Diop in the attack, and if he can contribute 10 goals Dhafra would be ecstatic.

They open the league season away to Jazira on Friday night, and returning Jazira coach Abel Braga is sure to know that Jazira took only one point from Dhafra last season.

Foreign quartet

David Barral: The Spaniard, 32, was with Sporting Gijon when they were promoted to La Liga in 2008 and was still on their books when they won 1-0 at the Bernabeu, ending Jose Mourinho’s nine-season home league unbeaten streak. Barral went to Turkey’s Orduspur for a season and comes to Dhafra from Levante, where the forward scored 18 goals in 67 matches over the past two seasons.

Makhete Diop: At 27, the Senegal national should be in his prime. He scored 12 league goals last season, but that was a drop from the 22 and 18 he produced the previous two seasons. He has been playing in the region since 2009.

Ahmed Ibrahim: The Iraqi is a back-line doppelganger for Diop; each is 1.88 metres in height and weighs about 85 kilos. He played 19 league games for Dhafra last season.

Jose Luna: The little Argentine, 28, is playing outside South America for the first time, but he has been given the No 10 shirt and the responsibility of directing the attack. Dhafra will need him to settle quickly.

Key Emirati players

Abdulsalam Juma, the 38-year-old midfielder and captain, has been a central figure for Dhafra for years. Only Al Ain’s Helal Saeed, who is 11 days older, keeps him from owning the title “oldest first XI player in the league”. Abdulrahim Jumaa, 36, is another veteran midfielder, and Saif Mohammed, 31, is a stalwart in the back. Several of the club’s top Emirati players a year ago moved to other clubs.


Laurent Banide, 47, has twice coached Monaco but most of his career as a manager has been spent in the Gulf. This is his fifth stint in the UAE, three of them with Al Dhafra. He also worked briefly at Al Nasr and Al Wasl, and also coached in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.

The National verdict

More of the same. Dhafra will sneak up on several clubs and take points from them but will not finish in the upper half of a 14-team league. Last season, they drew a league-high 12 of 26 matches, and swinging a few of those into the victory column could see them to better than last season’s 27 points and 11th place.

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