Douglas can score for Al Ain, but Gyan-shaped shadow will lift only by doing so in Asia

The recent recruit has already been made the scapegoat for Al Ain’s Champions League troubles, writes John McAuley, but such is the reality for a club with high Asian aspirations.

Douglas missed from the spot, then squandered a golden chance to earn a point for Al Ain.

An opening defeat to El Jaish was not how the Brazilian envisaged his opening night in the 2016 Asian Champions League, a new experience for his new club in a competition they value most.

Al Ain were wasteful and a little weary, but Douglas bore the brunt. He scored two of three penalties, although only one counted. He showed remarkable resolve to step up for the third, and a conviction in his capabilities to thump the ball high into the corner, but ultimately the damage was done minutes from time.

Read also: John McAuley – Victory is vital for Al Ain when they face Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli in Asian Champions League

With the score 2-1 to Jaish and the clock haring to its conclusion, Douglas lifted a close-range attempt high over the bar. He held his head in his hands; the crowd threw up theirs in frustration.

So Douglas departed the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium as a target for sections of the Al Ain support. It followed him onto social media, where the criticism grew so vehement that he promptly closed his Instagram account.

Already deemed not worthy of the shirt, little more than one month after his arrival from Japan, the fall guy understandably struggled to comprehend the fallout.

Then last week, after a successive defeat to Jaish left Al Ain bottom of Group D, Douglas faced the issue head on. Speaking in the match-day programme for the league encounter with Baniyas, he expressed his surprise at the level of condemnation.

“I have never before experienced this from fans of the club I belong to,” he said.

Douglas responded by scoring twice in Al Ain’s 4-2 victory; one an overhead kick, one a brilliant header. Allied to his hat-trick the previous round at Al Jazira, where he displayed supreme finishing and predatory instincts, he now has 10 goals in as many matches. Ten matches, 10 goals.

But the Champions League is where he will be measured.

That is where Asamoah Gyan top-scored in 2014, when Al Ain ran to the semi-finals for the first time in nine years. Douglas was brought to fill the sizeable void created by Gyan’s departure last summer, a task Emmanuel Emenike could not embrace, a millstone around the neck.

“Not only today, but in the future of Al Ain, Asamoah Gyan will be a big problem for everybody,” said Zlatko Dalic after the initial Jaish defeat. “Because everybody expects like Asamoah Gyan: to always score goals, to always take chances. But it is not easy.”

Dalic, as any manager would, has defended Douglas whenever required, routinely referenced the player’s talent, reminded that his most recent signing needs time to settle, time to become familiar with unfamiliar environs. Wisely, Douglas is learning English in an attempt to expedite the process.

Yet, time is rarely afforded in UAE football, a foreign concept particularly when applied to foreign recruits. They must adapt in an instant, perform immediately, justify the outlay and their place as one of the coveted four among an otherwise all-Emirati squad.

That only accentuates at Al Ain, at Al Ain post-Gyan, at Al Ain in the Champions League. Ten goals in 10 matches is an excellent tally, but Douglas needs to regularly do it in Asia’s foremost club competition. That mission resumes Wednesday, against Al Ahli, the current league leaders in Saudi Arabia.

Douglas needs it; Al Ain’s flagging campaign needs it. Only then will the criticism cease and the patience thicken. ​

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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