Henk ten Cate has heaped praise on Al Jazira’s youth academy and believes the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s stunning 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League title success was deserved reward for putting their faith in youth.
Jazira sauntered to just a second-ever top-flight crown and first in six years last month, finishing 11 points ahead of second-placed Al Wasl.
It was a far cry from the previous campaign, one in which the Abu Dhabi giants had been on the brink of a very real relegation battle before Ten Cate replaced Abel Braga in December.
The Dutchman steadied the ship and even ended the season with silverware as Jazira defeated old foes Al Ain in the President’s Cup final on penalties.
Despite the obvious progress, Jazira’s success this season has still come as quite a shock due to possessing a threadbare squad.
And even though their policy of trusting youth has been somewhat necessitated by a lack of transfer activity, it is nevertheless impressive, with the likes of Khalfan Mubarak (21), Mohamed Jamal (22) and Salem Rashid (23) all featuring prominently during their title-winning campaign.
“The path we are following, bringing in players from the academy which regularly played. This is the way Al Jazira should concentrate on,” insisted the 62-year-old former Ajax coach, Ten Cate.
“There’s a very good academy here, it’s now a matter of building structure to have an elite group of players. I think the club is on the right track.
“You cannot continue buying players. Money, even here in the Emirates, is not endless. People should pay more attention to their academies and youth development plans.
“Chances are minimilised at a lot of clubs. We have a philosophy of if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”
The former Chelsea and Barcelona assistant added that he believes there is even better to come from Jazira next season.
“I think this team is maybe only at 80-85 per cent,” he said.
“I think there is more for them to take. I hope it’s the beginning, not the end.”
By winning a first AGL title since 2010/11, Ten Cate’s men have also qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup, taking place in the Emirates this December.
There, they could join Real Madrid, who qualified by virtue of their 4-1 defeat of Juventus in the Champions League on Saturday.
Fellow UAE side Al Ain could still scupper that dream should they win the 2017 AFC Champions League –in which case they would qualify and the runners-up of the ACL would be invited in Jazira’s place.
Of the chance to take on some of the world’s best clubs, Ten Cate added: “It’s a very big event. I t would put Jazira on the map as hundreds of millions of people watch those games. It’s a fantastic thing.”