Question marks on Cosmin Olaroiu, Al Ahli’s ambitions and Ismail Matar’s future at Al Wahda

In the talking points of the Arabian Gulf League, Amith Passela questions the strategy in the departure, albeit temporary, of the champion club's coach to Saudi Arabia, and more.
The Kalba camp in celebration after handing out a shock defeat to Al Nasr, in blue. Courtesy Mohideen / Al Ittihad
The Kalba camp in celebration after handing out a shock defeat to Al Nasr, in blue. Courtesy Mohideen / Al Ittihad

It is the time of the year when Arabian Gulf League clubs return to the drawing board to evaluate the performances of their respective teams as they prepare for the second half of the season.

With the January transfer window approaching, the coaches have the task of assessing and ringing the changes if they choose to bring in new players in areas that need to be improved or replace injured players.

When the AGL takes a one-month break as the national team competes in the Asian Cup from January 9 to 31, though, champions Al Ahli must chart their course without coach Cosmin Olaroiu.

There was confusion surrounding Olaroiu’s future after the club announced he would take charge of Saudi Arabia at next month’s continental championship.

However, the move has been confirmed as a temporary, one-month loan at the behest of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai and chairman of the club.

Ahli have struggled this season, slipping to mid-table before unconvincing wins over last-place Kalba and 10-man Al Wahda.

They are sixth on 19 points, placing great importance on Saturday’s match against Baniyas, Olaroiu’s last before going on loan.

The Romanian has fallen in Ahli fans’ esteem since leading the club to the AGL and Arabian Gulf Cup titles last season, angering some by signing compatriot Mirel Radoi in place of Portuguese midfielder Hugo Viana. Radoi has since been released.

The future of captain Grafite, 35, is also in doubt as he has not featured regularly in the line-up.

Ahli’s willingness to loan out Olaroiu instead of keeping him to consult on signings and formulate strategies raises questions over how a coach can prepare two teams with high ambitions at the same time.

Asked about his future at Ahli, Olaroiu only said: “To be honest with you, I don’t want to think anything other than our next game against Baniyas.”

Olaroiu will not be the only coach at the Asian Cup on loan to a national team. Qatar Sports Club have allowed coach Radhi Shenaishil to take a leave of absence and lead his native Iraq in Australia next month.

Kalba v Al Nasr

Kalba sprang one of the surprises of the season on Monday when they stunned Al Nasr 2-0, giving their fans a rare taste of top-flight success.

It was Kalba’s first win in the top tier of UAE football since February 21, 2013 – coincidentally also against Nasr – in what was then the Pro League.

The victory gave Kalba four points from 12 matches this season, having only managed a 1-1 home draw against Baniyas on September 21 amid 10 defeats.

They still have some way to go before matching their 2012/13 performance, though.

That season, Kalba also managed wins over Dibbah Al Fujairah and Al Dhafra, as well as draws with Dubai and Al Wasl. They were relegated with 11 points and a negative-51 goal difference.

Ismail Matar

Has the time come for Ismail Matar, one of the favouite sons of the UAE, to hang up his boots?

Matar, 31, has struggled with his fitness and form, and he has not played a full game so far for Al Wahda this season. He has been unable to provide the firepower or the skills that once made him one of the best forwards in the country.

The Wahda captain suffered a neck injury from a blow he received in the 2-1 defeat to Ahli on Monday. Unable to move, he was rushed by an ambulance for treatment.

It is still not known how long he may take to recover, but he definitely will be out of the national team reckoning for the Asian Cup.

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Published: December 16, 2014 04:00 AM


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