Shabab Al Ahli's successful season down to 'hard work and team spirit' - Mahdi Ali

Dubai club have won three trophies this season and are unbeaten in 25 domestic matches

Mahdi Ali says Shabab Al Ahli’s trophy-laden end to the season can be attributed simply to hard work, as the Dubai club look to build on that success to challenge on all fronts next campaign.

The seven-time UAE champions enjoyed a fantastic second half to the domestic season, with Sunday’s win in the President’s Cup final making it three trophies since the turn of the year.

Shabab Al Ahli captured the Arabian Gulf Cup last month, adding to the Super Cup they secured in January. They are unbeaten in 25 matches domestically, dating back to soon after Mahdi Ali’s appointment in December. The run helped them finish third in the Arabian Gulf League.

Speaking following Sunday’s 2-1 victory against Al Nasr at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Mahdi Ali said: “I’m very happy for the club, for the players, for the management. It is a result of all the hard work to get us to this point.

“We didn’t start very well in the league, but we ended in good shape and we won three trophies out of four. That’s very good for the club and for the players.

“Hard work, hard work and hard work; that is the secret behind this. There is nothing else. And the team spirit, from the players’ committee, the officials, the fans and all the staff. This is the main reason.”

Back in his third stint as Shabab Al Ahli manager, Mahdi Ali replaced Spaniard Gerard Zaragoza in December with the club seventh in the Arabian Gulf League. His side suffered defeat in his first match in charge, but have since lost only three of 31 games, with all three coming in last month’s postponed Asian Champions League group stage.

Mahdi Ali said he and his staff made the decision some time ago to focus on the domestic cups, and the call was vindicated on Sunday night as he departed Al Ain with the President's Cup.

The Emirati, a former UAE national team manager, lifted the country’s showpiece football trophy twice as a player with Al Ahli (the club was rebranded in 2017 following a merger). Sunday’s triumph was their record-extending 10th President’s Cup win.

Asked what the most recent success meant to him, Mahdi Ali said: “Of course, this is the club where I’d grown up. I played in this club for many years and it’s a really amazing feeling to win the same cup again as a coach, not only as a player.”

Now focus shifts to next season, Shabab Al Ahli will be intent on reclaiming their place at the summit of UAE football. The club sealed the last of their seven top-flight titles in the 2015/16 season, while they finished this campaign seven points off champions Al Jazira.

“We have to review all our work for the past five months and see all the advantages, disadvantages, problems, weaknesses, strong points, and try to prepare for the next season from now,” Mahdi Ali said.

“The expectation for the club is always… it’s a big club, always you have to be at the top. So we have to work hard, maybe harder than this season and prepare the team well to start in the beginning in good shape.

“We have a good future. As you can see before [last week's league match against Nasr, which Shabab Al Ahli won 3-2], we have lots of talented young players – 17, 18, 20, 21 – so we also have to give them chances and try to give some more energy to the players. Because we have some players who are at the end of their careers. So we have to think about the future of the club also.”

Meanwhile, Mahdi Ali said playmaker Omar Abdulrahman was close to returning for Sunday’s final. The 2016 Asian player of the year, who joined Shabab Al Ahli on a free transfer in February, has not played since October when he suffered another serious injury while representing Al Jazira.

Published: May 17, 2021 01:41 PM


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