Worst job security – managers
This is a much-trampled path but it is getting worse. Ten rounds into 2013/14 and seven coaches had been confined to an already-teeming scrapheap. Or to accentuate the point: by mid-December, half the top-flight clubs had changed managers.
Al Ain did not even wait for the season to begin, yanking Jorge Fossati from the dugout on the eve of the new term, while Laurent Banide lasted all of four league matches with Al Wasl.
The Frenchman presumably bumped into Luis Milla at airport departures, as that same week Al Jazira finally ended the Spaniard’s painful stay of execution.
Dismissals have since taken place at Al Wahda, Dubai, Emirates and Al Shaab, proving once again that an Arabian Gulf League manager could indeed be football’s most endangered species.Maybe club boards should have a scan through the protected list, it certainly would not take long. Top is Marcos Paqueta, 18 months into his Al Shabab reign and recently contracted for another two years. Why? Shabab are second in the table. See, perseverance pays.
Best comeback – Bonamigo
The Brazilian must be a glutton for punishment. How else would you describe his return to UAE football, only months after being unceremoniously dumped by Al Jazira?
Paulo Bonamigo, having already established a worthy reputation at Al Shabab, was in February cast aside by the capital club despite his team enjoying a 19-match unbeaten streak. In fact, the axe came down immediately following a 4-1 dismantling of Al Dhafra. A bit harsh, that.
So Bonamigo retreated, licked considerable wounds and resurfaced as the man to lead Sharjah on their reinstatement to the top flight. He has been a huge success: Sharjah are fourth in the table, level on points with third-placed Al Nasr and nine points off the summit. They boast the stingiest defence in the division, although at the cost of their prolific scoring.
Bonamigo’s work should not be underestimated; exemplified by the sage recruitment of compatriots Fellype Gabriel, Mauricio Ramos and Ze Carlos. In their capable coach, the Kings may have just found their princely charm.
Worst exit – Sumudica
Few managers provided the sort of sound bites Marius Sumudica routinely gave during his time as Al Shaab coach. His wife, based back in his native Romania, had apparently once struggled to recognise him on Skype, his hair having turned grey and his features drawn thanks to the pressures of managing in the UAE top flight.
Often, too, he would indulge in referring to himself in the third person, always a tell-tale sign the wheels could come off at any moment. And so they did, with his year-long tenure terminated after four points from a possible 27. Shaab were dead last in the standings and Sumudica had to go. Although not before casually washing his hands of the whole thing.
“I’ve always defended the players, but I’m not going to now because they have been negligent and have not shown enough enthusiasm,” he roared. “So the problem of Al Shaab is not the coach, but the players.” He may have a point, but what is the adage about workmen and tools?
Best carbon copy – Adeilson
Imagine the Al Shabab supporters’ dismay when news broke in early August that Ciel, their brilliant Brazilian, was leaving the club. The striker had been an integral component in his side’s stellar 2012/13 campaign, scoring 15 times as Shabab finished fifth in the table, reached the knockout stages in Asia and contested a President’s Cup final. To make matters worse, he was leaving for Al Ahli, the boys from just down the road.
“Never fear,” proclaimed coach Marcos Paqueta, before vowing to replace Ciel with a player of superior quality.
It raised more than a few eyebrows, but then Paqueta, hugely respected in his homeland, has a black book of Brazilian hotties that would make even Leonardo DiCaprio green. He had to look only as far as “A” in fact, snapping up Adeilson for a minimal fee.
The Brazilian has swiftly repaid his new manager by doing his best Ciel impression: a fleet-footed forward, he bangs in goals [eight] while assisting teammates, too. Ciel who?
Worst spat – Olaroiu/Al Ain
At the onset headline writers and fans of the Arabian Gulf League would have been rubbing their hands in glee. Cosmin Olaroiu, having masterminded Al Ain’s past two league titles, had upped sticks from the Garden City and relocated to Dubai’s Al Ahli. If relations between the country’s two strongest clubs were already frayed – see 2012/13 – then surely this would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The ensuing fallout has been incendiary. Al Ain accused Olaroiu of breaking a written agreement to extend his contract with the champions, while the Romanian was then charged with making derogatory remarks about his former employers.
The squabble has swollen to such an extent that Olaroiu is at present contesting a six-month touchline ban, which prohibits him from manning the dugout for the entire second half of the season. In all, the dispute has become rather ugly and, if rumours are true, moves have been finally made to restore the peace.
But it has been riveting, hasn’t it?
FIVE STARS OF THE FIRST HALF
Asamoah Gyan (Al Ain) His team may not be hitting the high notes of the past two seasons, but Gyan continues to be a maestro, leading the scoring charts with 16. Thanks to his contribution, Al Ain are top of the goals-for tally with 31. Gyan has four more than the next best, Ibrahima Toure, and if the Ghanaian can keep finding the target at the same rate, he could finish with a higher tally than his record 31 from last season.
Ali Kashief (Al Jazira) With the classy Abdelaziz Barrada hogging the limelight and regaling fans with his sublime skills in the middle, it is always difficult for a man at the back to get much credit. But the Al Jazira goalkeeper has been the star of their campaign and one of the biggest reasons for their healthy position with 22 points from 12 games. A prime example was his outstanding performance in the 1-1 draw against Sharjah on Thursday.
Brett Holman (Al Nasr) "Sometimes the way he plays I wonder if Brett needs another lung," Paul Lambert, Holman's manager at Premier League club Aston Villa, said last season. "I don't think I ever see him standing still on the pitch," said his Villa teammate Karim El Ahmadi. Nobody at Al Nasr can claim to have seen the Australian stand still either. He is all over the pitch, battling for every ball and his high-energy performances are a pleasure to watch.
Basheer Saeed (Al Ahli) In a team boasting flashy attackers in Grafite, Ciel and Ismail Al Hammadi, and a midfield that stars Luis Jimenez and Hugo Viana, the role of a centre-back might not get much notice. But Saeed has played an invaluable part in Ahli's reign at the top of the table. He is the team's Mr Reliable, the strongman who sniffs out the best of poachers and hacks down the musclemen. He is handy with free kicks as well.
Fellype Gabriel (Sharjah) A Brazilian Under 20 team member at the 2005 Fifa World Youth Championship, Gabriel was surprised by his call-up to the national team for the annual Super Derby against Argentina in November 2012. But anyone who has watched him marshal Sharjah's midfield this season would know it was a good choice. The 28-year-old former Botofoga man is a livewire with an impressive bag of tricks.
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