Mahdi Ali likens himself to Cristiano Ronaldo as he takes over at Shabab Al Ahli

Matt Jones 6/12/2017
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Just like Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is playing himself through a lean spell in front of goal, Mahdi Ali insists he has nothing to prove after being unveiled as Cosmin Olaroiu’s replacement as Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club coach.

The Romanian’s revolutionary run at Rashid Stadium came to a shuddering halt earlier this week when his contract was ended by “mutual consent” the day after a sixth-successive draw was recorded against Al Dhafra.

Ali’s first assignment at the club where he spent his entire 15-year playing career, plus a brief managerial stint in 2009/10, could hardly be tougher as Shabab Al Ahli head to Arabian Gulf League leaders Al Wasl on Friday.

The Cheetahs, who are unbeaten in their last 25 matches in all competitions, were also buoyed by news on Wednesday that their Brazilian gem Fabio De Lima has signed a four-year contract extension until 2022.

Ali’s best work as a coach has been during a five-year stint as UAE national team coach, which was brought to a sad end in March with their 2018 World Cup hopes in ruins.

Prior to that, however, Ali led the Whites to an unprecedented third place at the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia as well as Gulf Cup of Nations success in 2013.

He also led a talented group of emerging talent at the 2012 Olympic Games in London – many of whom make up the current senior UAE side – and the 52-year-old is adamant he does not need to convince anyone of the merits of his coaching.

“After being in this field for 16 years, I don’t need to prove anything to myself. I have done things which convinced everyone of my talents, and I have nothing more to prove,” Ali said, likening himself to Portugal powerhouse Ronaldo, himself the subject of criticism as both he and Real have endured a difficult start to the La Liga season.

End of an era: For Cosmin at Al Ahli.

The 32-year-old forward has just two goals in 10 La Liga games this season for Los Blancos but Ali insists this does not mean he has suddenly become a bad player.

He added: “A coach or player is basically the same thing. Sometimes you see Cristiano Ronaldo, he doesn’t play a good game. But that doesn’t mean he is not a good player.

“He does not need to prove that he’s a good player. Because everybody knows he is a good player. This is normal, sometimes you have a good result with the team and sometimes you are not winning, because another team is fighting.”

Ali, who began his journey with the UAE as assistant of the Under-16 team in 2003, played 194 league games for Al Ahli between 1983-1998, lifting two President’s Cups with the Red Knights in 1988 and 1996.

And at his unveiling back where it all began for him on Wednesday, the former midfielder said he is excited by the new challenge ahead.

“What I can say is it is good to have a new challenge and this challenge always makes you motivated to fight for this club and the goals we are looking for,” said Ali, who has taken the Rashid Stadium reins initially until the end of the season.

“I didn’t come here to prove something, I came here to accept a new challenge and to do something for this club. Because I think this club deserves to be in a better position.”

Devastating De Lima, meanwhile, will have delighted Wasl fans with his contract extension, which the club tweeted out on Wednesday.

There had been rumblings the 24-year-old – scorer of 11 goals in 10 AGL games this term – had been agitating for a move away from Zabeel Stadium earlier this season, but he told the club’s website he had turned down several “attractive” offers to stay in Dubai.

“I preferred to renew my contract with Al Wasl despite the many attractive offers,” he said.

“I am happy in the team and have a great attachment to the fans of Al Wasl. I want to contribute with my colleagues to achieve championships and the aspirations of the fans.”

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Bank on the Brazilians at Wasl - stats ahead of Shabab Al Ahli clash

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One of the Arabian Gulf League’s glamour ties comes this Friday, electric leaders Al Wasl hosting a Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club side who have just entered a new era with ex-UAE coach Mahdi Ali.

A sell-out crowd took in this fixture last term and a similarly fevered atmosphere is expected at Rashid Stadium (19:30 kick-off).

Here are Three Deadly Stats to help preview the match:

WASL’S BRILLIANT BRAZILIANS

In Fabio De Lima and Caio Canedo, Al Wasl possess strikers to inject fear into any opponents.

The former – who inked a contract extension to 2022 on Wednesday – leads the way in the top flight with an incredible 11 goals in 10 2017/18 matches. His compatriot is not too far behind, notching seven times in the same amount of matches.

Wasl will need the duo to be at their best once again after recording two disappointing draws in a row. Both players account for 18 of the team’s 21 goals.

THE NOT-SO-MAGNIFICENT SEVEN

A breaking point comes even for a coach as successful and fearsome as Olaroiu.

Last Friday’s 1-1 stalemate with lowly Al Dhafra was their sixth successive in the AGL and seventh in all competitions. Less than 24 hours later, the Romanian’s trophy-laden four-year spell was brought to a premature end.

Replacement Ali must break this curse if he is to stand any chance of getting an extension to the six-month deal signed with the club he both previously played for and shortly led.

These results have placed Shabab Al Ahli in fifth, four places and seven points behind pace-setting Wasl.

ARRUABARRENA’S INVINCIBLES

The impact of ex-Boca Juniors coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena since his summer 2016 move to Wasl has been profound.

A team that had registered two-successive sixth-placed finishes under Argentine compatriot Gabriel Calderon was inspired to finish second in 2016/17. The Cheetahs have continued improving, a 25-match unbeaten run in all competitions fueling their charge.

In the AGL, they last tasted defeat to eventual champions Al Jazira on January 13 – 22 games ago. This means the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s record in the professional era of 28 top-flight fixtures without losing is within their sights.

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Shabab Al Ahli's Majed Hassan pays emotional tribute to Cosmin Olaroiu

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Grateful: Majed Hassan (Photo credit: Twitter/@alahlicclub).

Shabab Al Ahli Dubai and UAE midfielder Majed Hassan has paid tribute to Cosmin Olaroiu following the sudden departure of the Romanian coach from the club.

Hassan had played under the tutelage of Olaroiu at Shabab Al Ahli for the past four and a half seasons during which they claimed two Arabian Gulf League titles and reached the final of the AFC Champions League.

A string of seven consecutive draws led to Olaroiu’s departure from the Dubai side on Saturday, with former UAE national team boss announced as his replacement.

“Thank you to the father who taught me how to play football and how to battle to reach the champion’s podium,” said the 25-year-old Hassan in a tweet on Monday.

“Thank you to the man who taught me to always strive for greatness and to never wake up from my dream until it is a reality. You will forever be the best in everything and will forever be the best in my heart.”

Al Ahli fans took to Twitter to bid farewell to Olaroiu using the hash-tag “shukran Cosmin” (thank you Cosmin), while ‘Mahdi Ali’ has been trending on the micro-blogging site in the UAE for the past two days.

The 48-year-old Olaroiu posted a message on his personal Instagram account on Sunday, describing his last six months with the club as “suffering”.

“Proud to be part of this path. Thanks everyone for messages and support I had a fantastic story for last 4 years,” read the message.

“And another 6 months of suffering. In this 4 years i don’t create a team i create men’s and warriors I make from each one from my small brothers a better version of themselves. I don’t win trophies and glory i won Love and Respect and i give my heart and passion.

“My mission finished here story finished also here, because is difficult to make football ‘with another people thinking’…but life continue I love and respect all of you guys You gone remain always my family ❤️❤️❤️”

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