Al Jazira have been head and shoulders above the rest of their rivals this season, but right-back Mohammed Fawzi wants the Pride of Abu Dhabi to transfer their domestic form onto the continent.
The Arabian Gulf League leaders have been imperious in sweeping to the top of the table following a dreadful 2015/16 campaign that had promised much but saw them eventually limp home in seventh – a distant 29 points behind eventual champions Al Ahli.
This season, however, they have been mesmerising. Henk ten Cate’s men have lost just once in 19 games – a 2-0 defeat to Al Nasr in December, and they are nine points clear of the second-placed Red Knights with seven games remaining.
But, as the Abu Dhabi giants get set to kick off their 2017 AFC Champions League campaign at Qatar’s Lekhwiya on Monday, UAE international Fawzi hopes they can mix with Asia’s finest after a woeful 2016 campaign.
“The Champions League is something different for me and the players and we are waiting for this competition,” said the 26-year-old, who arrived at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in the summer from AGL rivals Al Ain.
“First we have to play well to represent our country and then to show all the people that UAE football is good. It’s also about how you market yourself in Asia, lots more people will be watching us and this is what the players need.
“I hope Al Jazira do well in the competition, like we are doing in the league, and I am excited to start the Champions League.”
Amid their struggles last term, Jazira capitulated in the Champions League, finishing rock bottom of Group C with just one point – posting the competition’s second worst record after Thailand’s Buriram United.
But Fawzi insists the players are not thinking about last season.
“We didn’t turn back and look at what happened last year, we don’t think about it,” he added.
“We just have to not think about last year. This year is different. Jazira have young players who are hungry to play and win each game. I’m happy because they are helping me since coming here and I’m excited to start.”
And, even before a ball is kicked, Fawzi admitted the capital city club have ambitions to go far in Asia’s premier competition.
He added: “For me I want to go far. I want to go far in each competition, whatever it is, even if it’s PlayStation. This is what we like at Jazira. We want to go far and this mindset is how we can be successful.”
Fawzi has played at the UAE’s three biggest clubs in his relatively short career – Ahli, Al Ain and now Jazira – but he was either too young or too much of a bit-part player to really establish himself at either the Red Knights or the Boss.
Despite winning an AGL medal with both Ahli in 2008/09 and Al Ain in 2014/15, Fawzi, 27 on Wednesday, knew he had to make a change, which was behind his decision to uproot from the Garden City in the summer.
“I came here to fight, to win, to be a champion,” added Fawzi.
“Maybe when I was at Al Ain I played but not much because of injury, but this is something different here. You have to think about yourself sometimes, but wherever you go you have to fight. If what you do doesn’t come good you have to change. This is normal.
“I am happy to be with my brothers and with my friends at Jazira and I hope they are as happy as me. We are looking forward and inshallah we will do something different in the Champions League compared to last season.”
And the maturing defender acknowledges that with exciting youngsters like Khalfan Mubarak, Saif Khalfan, Salim Rashid, Mohamed Jamal and Ahmed Al Attas around him, he is in a position to offer advice to the next generation.
He added: “Is it the happiest season in my career? I don’t know because I was also a champion with Al Ahli. It’s a better season for me. I’m taking responsibility in the team now, so in that sense it’s my best year.
“Now I’m 26. Before I was young and I had older, big players helping me. Now I am one of the senior players so I have to take my brothers with me. It’s different. It’s not better, not worse, but different, and it means a lot to me (to be playing regularly).”