Al Ahli coach Olaroiu unfazed by raised expectations for new Arabian Gulf League season

Romanian confident that changing up a winning side will make his club even stronger

Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu is pictured during an Arabian Gulf League match at Rashid Stadium in Dubai on April 10, 2014. Sarah Dea / The National
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DUBAI // Back in familiar surroundings, Cosmin Olaroiu displayed a contented figure on the eve of the new Arabian Gulf League season.

The Al Ahli coach could have been forgiven for giving off a few signs of anxiety, given that the club's first UAE league championship in five years has undoubtedly increased expectations for a repeat performance.

Ahli were front-runners and runaway leaders through 2013/14, claiming the title with three matches to spare, eventually winning by 18 points. The treasured hardware found space in the trophy cabinet beside last season’s Super Cup and was accompanied a few weeks later by the Arabian Gulf Cup.

With such success comes heightened pressure and an even greater challenge for 2014/15 – Ahli are the team to beat, the division's most sought-after side.

However, Olaroiu has been here before. In two seasons prior to arriving at Ahli, the Romanian guided Al Ain to successive championships. He understands the stresses that come with being champions, yet he is not bowed by them.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

"Yes, it's very difficult to defend. All the attention is on you, everyone treats you differently and prepares for the games against you differently," he said ahead of Tuesday's season-opener at Sharjah.

“But we already adapted to this with the experience we had before I came, in winning the President’s Cup, and then last year, the three competitions.

“Everyone said after we won the title we wouldn’t be concentrated on the next competition – the League Cup – but we did it. In our meeting yesterday, I told the players that of course it’s hard to win, but it’s even harder to maintain your victories and that’s where character plays a part.

“I experienced that with my previous team, where we managed to reach two titles in a row, and I’m confident I can do that again with Al Ahli.”

That conviction, that determination to sustain the good life, has apparently imbued Ahli with even greater motivation for the new season.

Olaroiu has tweaked a winning squad – Mirel Radoi, Habib Fardan and Nawaf Mubarak are high-profile additions – and he is convinced Ahli are stronger for the investment. He dismissed suggestions that complacency could set in among his relatively altered side, or that opponents have worked out how to thwart them.

“We don’t just change to change,” Olaroiu said. “We now have a team that can prove very competitive. The changes we wanted, we succeeded in making.

“As long as I am here, my players have only one choice, which is to win and only to win. The player that can accept that will continue with us. Whoever can’t keep up with the pressure, maybe that means that person doesn’t have a strong enough character to continue our winning run.

“From what I know from football, the only way to play is to win. If you don’t win, it’s like you’re wasting your time. I tried to explain to the players that, when you play football, nobody will remember a player or a coach who never wins anything. And you can’t be proud of your work without winning. We are here just for winning.”

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