Henk ten Cate got what he wished for. Following Ah Ahli’s 2-1 win against Al Wahda on Saturday night, Al Jazira have the chance to lift the Arabian Gulf League title on their own terms when they face Hatta at the end of the month.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi could have become AGL champions had Ahli failed to beat Abu Dhabi rivals Wahda in the capital, 24 hours after they had trounced Al Shabab 3-0.
And Balazs Dzsudzsak’s equaliser with 15 minutes to go meant it was heading that way, until Everton Ribeiro’s late winner.
Most coaches may have wished for the title to have been won at the earliest opportunity. But not Ten Cate. With the way his team have performed this season, he feels they deserve to win the title their own way, without help from anyone else.
“I think we should do it on our own terms and the players deserve a nice match and a celebration, in an official match where you get the championship,” the Dutchman said after his side cruised to a 19th win in 23 league games on Friday night and took one more step towards lkifting a first AGL title since 2010/11.
“To be honest I would not like to be a champion tomorrow (Saturday). I hope a lot of fans will travel with us to Hatta, I hope the club arranges something for the fans to celebrate with us.
“This is what this team deserves, not to become a champion anonymously, the next day, when you have played already. You hear at night Ahli did not win so you are champion.
“This is something we have to do together, to celebrate together. I hope we win in a real game. Maybe the players think differently but this is my desire.”
Although Jazira still have to get across the finish line, with a point likely to be and a win definitely good enough from their remaining three matches, Ten Cate is already looking to the future, and improving his squad.
It is a small squad that Ten Cate deemed not large enough or possessing enough quality to launch a sustained bid for AFC Champions League success, which is why he has prioritised the league in recent months.
But success on the continent is something he will take more seriously next year.
“I’m thinking, in the near future, is the next game, which will be Lekhwiya but of course we have conversations about how to improve the team, to get better, to get better players, which is very important,” added Ten Cate, the former Chelsea and Barcelona assistant.
“Of course we can do better and we have to improve our squad next year. This is something we are talking about. We play with a lot of players from our academy and not so many teams can do this.
“If you win the championship, we will play in the Champions League again and the Club World Cup. We have a figure and we want to show the world what we are capable of but we need more than we have this year.
“People are working on it but we have to wait and see. I can only give suggestions, they will think about it and if it’s possible we will maybe do it, but this is not up to me, it’s up to the club.”