An oversized Romanian flag draped across gargantuan shoulders and the Arabian Gulf League’s metallic shield raised high marked Cosmin Olaroiu’s return to the top seat of UAE football.
All vestiges of the uncharacteristic fallibility shown during 2014/15’s woeful defence had been blown away, this transformation made real during last Sunday’s coronation. Under the omnipotent coach’s watch, a second title in three seasons had been secured with a record 66-point tally, as well as the most-lethal attack, meanest
defence and goal difference of +40.
Only ongoing ructions about his future could take the shine away.
Vitally, the 46-year-old had been helped by the instant return on Ahli’s enormous investments. The decisions to lavish a historic €17 million (Dh71m) on forward Moussa Sow, €7m (Dh29.3m) on 11-goal striker Lima – absent since late December through injury – and the game-changing Dh60m capture of UAE defensive midfielder Khamis Esmail from fellow heavyweights Al Jazira all proved successful.
The same cannot be said for dethroned Al Ain. A mixture of miserly and misguided recruitment, combined with waiting until January to adequately replace sold talisman Asamoah Gyan, proved toxic. It is to coach Zlatko Dalic’s huge credit that he kept the race alive until last month’s decisive 1-0 loss in Dubai.
Beyond Ahli, further success stories existed. Ex-Atletico Madrid boss Javier Aguirre’s appointment catalysed Al Wahda, ending a five-year trophy drought with the Arabian Gulf Cup and earning an AFC Champions League play-off berth.
Huge credit must also go to Al Dhafra and promoted side Dibba Al Fujairah. The mid-season arrivals of the Syrian pair of coach Mohamed Kwid and nine-goal forward Omar Khrbin saw the former go from relegation certainties to eighth, while veteran coach Theo Bucker ensured the new boys were never in true danger of an immediate return to First Division League.
The same could not be said of atrocious Al Shaab. The yo-yo club’s seven points is the lowest total
recorded in the professional era.
Hotly-tipped Al Jazira wasted fortunes on the failed return of Abel Braga. The 23 goals of UAE forward Ali Mabkhout provided a sole highlight for fallen giants.
Bani Yas’ continued faith in Luis Garcia was misguided, Al Nasr failed to build on twin cup success, Al Shabab sullied their reputation with the callous handling of coach Caio Junior’s exit and Gabriel Calderon’s crumbling association with Al Wasl ended with the sack. At the bottom, underwhelming Sharjah and Emirates Club had Fujairah’s run of seven-successive losses from January-April to thank for staying up.
A summer of change lies ahead. The opposition will hope Olaroiu’s rumoured exit is part of this.