UAE football shake-up: Three clubs merge to form Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, two to form Sharjah Cultural Club

UAE football experienced a succession of major developments on Tuesday.

Illustration: Kevin Jeffers / The National
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DUBAI // UAE football experienced a succession of major developments on Tuesday, led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, ordering the merger of Al Shabab, Al Ahli and Dubai club.

The three clubs had been expected to compete separately in next season’s Arabian Gulf League (AGL), but will now be known as Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, with assets and properties of the trio transferred to the single entity with immediate effect.

It was then confirmed later in the night that Sharjah and Al Shaab, clubs in the AGL and the First Division, respectively, have also merged following a decree issued by Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah. The new enterprise will be known as Sharjah Cultural Club.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, was appointed as chairman of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, with its headquarters located at Dubai club’s current site in Al Awir. The club’s facilities are to be revamped.

A supreme committee was formed to oversee the merger process under the chairmanship of Khalifa Saeed Sulaiman, president of the interim committee overseeing Ahli since the beginning of this year.

According to the decision, all assets and investments of the three clubs will be managed by an asset management and investment company formed under the leadership of Hisham Abdullah Al Qassim.

A tweet from Dubai Media Office’s official Twitter account attributed a quote to Sheikh Mohammed saying: “Our objective is to build a club that can compete regionally and globally.”

. @HHShkMohd orders the merger of Al Shabab, Dubai & Al Ahli clubs into one club under the name of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club #Dubai

The series of shock announcements represent the most dynamic development in UAE football since the Arabian Gulf League’s professional era began in 2008. Following news of the Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club merger, the Football Association was to hold an urgent meeting to discuss the implications on the top flight. It is unclear if the competition will stay at 14 teams or reduce to 12.

“We welcome the wise decision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum,” said FA president Marwan bin Ghalita in a statement. “We wish every success for Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.”

Ahli were founded in 1970 and have been crowned UAE champions seven times, most recently in the 2015/16 season. Shabab were formed in 1974, winning the championship in 1989/90 and 2007/08. Dubai club, meanwhile, were founded in 1997. They sealed promotion to the Arabian Gulf League last month. Established in 1966, Sharjah are five-time champions, while Shaab, founded eight years later, finished sixth in this season’s First Division, the second tier of UAE football.

The development comes amid sustained calls for football in the Emirates to operate under stricter budgetary controls, with a number of clubs said to be encountering severe financial problems.

No details were initially provided about staff at the respective clubs, with Shabab having to cancel a 5pm press conference on Tuesday to formally present new manager Goran Tufegdzic. As of yet, the full impact on Ahli is unknown, since the Dubai side contest on Monday the first leg of their Asian Champions League last-16 clash with Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli. The Rashid Stadium club were runners-up in the 2015 competition.


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