Henk ten Cate is incredibly proud of Al Jazira’s transformation under his stewardship and says UAE striker Ali Mabkhout’s lethal form perfectly encapsulates the club’s philosophy since he took over.
The Dutchman replaced fallen Pride of Abu Dhabi idol Abel Braga in December 2015, who was sacked after his second spell at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium came to a sad end following a dreadful opening to the 2015/16 campaign.
Jazira were 13th at the time and in real danger of entering into a relegation dog-fight, but the turnaround under Ten Cate has been truly spectacular.
The former Ajax coach steadied the ship and steered Jazira to the safety of a seventh-placed Arabian Gulf League finish, while they also ended last season on a high by claiming the President’s Cup with a dramatic penalty shootout victory against Al Ain.
Jazira have been revitalised this term and, as they stand on the cusp of a first AGL title since Braga’s first reign ended in 2010/11, the club is set to dominate this season’s Arabian Gulf League awards which will take place on May 15 – with nominees in five categories revealed yesterday.
Ten Cate, who has won an incredible 26 of the 36 league games he has presided over since his arrival, is favourite for the coach of the year accolade, while star striker Mabkhout is also the frontrunner for the Best Emirati Player award.
Youngster Khalfan Mubarak has also had a breakout year and is considered one of the favourites for Best Young Player, while with 14 clean sheets and just 15 goals conceded in 23 games, goalkeeper Ali Khaseif is also in line for the Golden Glove accolade.
“Very proud. Very proud,” Ten Cate said when asked how he feels about overseeing a revolution at the Abu Dhabi giants.
“Not only the staff but the players. They do it, not us. We help them during the week but they are doing it.
“They came from almost the second division when I took over last year. They were 13th in the league and at the end of the season we had the President’s Cup in our hands. And this season, probably, we are going to have another trophy.”
If Jazira’s progress has been refreshing under Ten Cate, the development of Mabkhout under the former Barcelona and Chelsea assistant’s guidance has been stunning.
The 26-year-old has always had talent, but it is under the watchful eye of Ten Cate and his staff that the UAE forward has truly blossomed.
He stands top of the AGL scoring charts with an incredible 28 goals in 22 games in 2016/17 and has 51 in 45 games over the course of the last two seasons in the league – his previous highest mark was 16 from 24 games in 2014/15 – while he has scored 47 Jazira goals in 45 games under Ten Cate.
“I think the best example of our philosophy in the way we work is Ali Mabkhout,” added Ten Cate.
“Before we worked with him he scored six or seven goals per season. With this staff he has already scored 52 (five for the UAE) in a season and a half.
“It’s a lot and I think a local striker finishing top of the goalscoring charts doesn’t happen too often. It’s never happened in the professional era. His goals per game is incredible, it’s really special.”
Mabkhout is five goals ahead of Al Wasl’s Fabio De Lima this season with three games to go. If he manages to maintain his lead and top the individual charts, it will be some feat.
Do so and he will be the first Emirati player to finish top goalscorer in the AGL’s professional era, which started in 2008/09.
Al Ahli’s Faisal Khalil finished joint top in the final season of the amateur era the previous year with Sharjah’s Anderson Barbosa. The last time a local player topped the list outright was Ali Thani for Sharjah almost 20 years ago in the 1997/98 campaign.
Despite two convincing victories over Sharjah this season, Al Wahda coach Javier Aguirre has warned his players against complacency in Wednesday’s President’s Cup semi-final as they look to resurrect hopes of ending the season on a high.
The Clarets will travel to Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium with high hopes of reaching a first final since 2010/11 having gained the upper hand in both Arabian Gulf League meetings against Jose Peseiro’s men with crushing 7-1 and 5-1 wins. But it’s been a frustrating campaign for the Abu Dhabi outfit, who sit fifth in the league and saw their Arabian Gulf Cup defence and AFC Champions League campaign end in the group stages.
An emphatic 6-0 drubbing of last season’s President’s Cup winners and AGL champions-elect Al Jazira in the quarter-finals means the competition remains their only hope of silverware and is also a possible route into next year’s premier continental club competition.
Aguirre played down suggestions there is pressure on his team to claim just a second-ever title and their first since 2000 but acknowledged the importance of the match for the club.
“It’s the most important game of the year because it’s the last competition we can win,” said the 58-year-old Mexican.
“We are 90 minutes away from reaching the final and the whole team is ready. We don’t have any pressure. We know Al Wahda have won just one President’s Cup. There would be pressure if we won more, but 17 years have passed and we have the same pressure as Sharjah.”
The King – joint record champions of the President’s Cup with eight crowns – enter the game unbeaten in their last three matches. And former Wahda coach Peseiro is optimistic his team, who stunned Al Wasl 4-2 in the last eight, are capable of reaching their first final since 2006.
“There is every possibility we can win,” said the Portuguese. “We were beaten by them twice in the league but we can defeat them. Al Wahda are a strong side with a very good coach who played in the Champions League. But this won’t affect our confidence.”
Cosmin Olaroiu says he cannot guarantee either his or star playmaker Everton Ribeiro’s future beyond the end of the season.
Al Ahli extended the Arabian Gulf League title race into another round of fixtures after brilliant Brazilian Ribeiro’s late goal in a 2-1 win at Al Wahda on Saturday, although Olaroiu is resigned to losing the AGL title with the Pride of Abu Dhabi requiring just one more point from their remaining three games.
The Red Knights claimed the Arabian Gulf Cup title a few weeks ago, but they have been second best to Jazira in the league, while they were beaten by Olaroiu’s old team Al Ain in the President’s Cup quarter-finals.
And even though the Romanian is under contract at Rashid Stadium for another year, Olaroiu is unsure as to whether the powers that be at the club will want to keep him around if they deem themselves unsatisfied with the 2016/17 campaign.
“It is a question I cannot answer in this moment,” Olaroiu answered when asked about his future after the Wahda game.
“I still have a contract with Al Ahli for one more year, but anything can happen. Maybe they (the club) are not satisfied with my performance and they kick me out. This is the life of the coach. I cannot tell you what will happen after one month.”
Ribeiro’s future is also something that has been up for debate in recent weeks, after Olaroiu admitted earlier this month an offer had been received for the 28-year-old – who has 16 goals and 16 assists in 57 AGL games since his February 2015 arrival from Cruzeiro.
And Olaroiu seemed to suggest that Ribeiro would be allowed to leave the club, but only if a suitable replacement is found.
“If somebody’s not happy where he is or has an offer to be in a better place it’s better to let them go and we’ll see if we have options to replace,” he said.
“Always we have to see what we can bring to release a player like Ribeiro. It is too early to talk about this but in any circumstance every time the player comes, the player goes, or the coach comes, the coach goes.”