What a difference a year makes in UAE football, especially in the capital city which is on the brink of a power shift between giants Al Jazira and a team that are definitely no longer just pretenders to their throne, Al Wahda.
Twelve months ago, the Pride of Abu Dhabi battled Al Ain for the Arabian Gulf League title, Eric Gerets’ men running out of steam down the home straight as the Garden City side eventually won by nine points.
The gap was misleading and Jazira’s efforts were reflected in scooping an individual double, with Ali Mabkhout named Emirati Player of the Year and the mercurial Mirko Vucinic Foreign Player of the Year at the AGL Awards.
This year, it was Abu Dhabi rivals Wahda collecting a brace, with Sebastian Tagliabue named Best Foreign Player and Mohamed Al Akbari, 20, named U21 Player of the Year as the Clarets finished third.
At Jazira, Gerets was ushered out, signalling the return of Brazilian, Abel Braga. He was supposed to deliver a first AGL title in five years – yet he was gone after just 16 miserable games.
Languishing in 12th place, Henk ten Cate delivered stability as Jazira recovered to finish seventh, but a woeful AFC Champions League campaign means he is likely to be jettisoned in the summer.
Four kilometres down the road, meanwhile, Wahda, under astute and affable Javier Aguirre, are plotting a revolt against the established Abu Dhabi footballing royalty.
Having finished second two seasons ago, 2014/15 was blighted by Jose Peseiro’s bizarre sacking and the Clarets sinking to fourth under Sami Al Jaber. Aguirre’s arrival last summer brought stability and much more, the Clarets celebrating becoming Arabian Gulf Cup champions as well as a berth in the Champions League playoffs.
Their success has been underpinned by lethal Argentine Tagliabue, who topped the AGL charts with 25 strikes in 26 games.
The Latin American cocktail is completed by the genius of Chile playmaker Jorge Valdivia and Brazilian midfielder Denilson adding steel – all of which is woven together by the vast experience of Mexican Aguirre.
Though they do not have the finances to compete with Al Ahli, Al Ain and Jazira, Wahda can push on from this and compete for the AGL title next season.
Achieve that and they will also be crowned the new kings of the capital.
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