Mohamed Ahmed admits he is enjoying his newfound role as a central defender for Al Ain and insists he will carry on in that position for as long as he is required.
The UAE international, 28, has featured at the heart of the Boss’ defence as opposed to his usual right-back role in the early stages of the Arabian Gulf League season.
And, having endured a nightmarish 2016/17 campaign ravaged by injury, Ahmed is just happy to be back playing regularly.
“Being injured was difficult but I am just thankful I have been able to return to the team and be a core member again,” said Ahmed, the former Al Shabab defender.
“They were difficult conditions like many other players have faced during periods of injury, but personally I always looked forward to getting back to competition and to once again show my best.”
The Dubai-born defender has won 50 caps for the Whites since his 2011 debut, most of which have been played while at Al Ain, whom he joined in 2012.
Ahmed returned to the Boss first team in a 3-2 home win against Al Wahda in April – a full eight months after he had last featured for the Garden City side following a knee injury suffered in August against Lokomotiv Tashkent in the 2016 AFC Champions League.
Now fully on the mend, Ahmed has featured at centre-back for Zoran Mamic’s side in the first two games of the AGL season – a 2-2 draw with Al Wasl on opening night and a 3-0 triumph over Hatta last week – in the absence of international colleagues Ismail Ahmed and Muhanad Salem.
Salem will return for the visit of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai tomorrow but Ahmed is still working his way back to full fitness, meaning Ahmed is likely to once again feature at centre-back, with Salem.
“Any assignments that the coach gives me enhances my understanding of the game and whether I play in the center or side of defence, I just hope to contribute to a good team performance,” said Ahmed.
“I am more committed to my defensive duties now, unlike at right-back when I linked in with offensive tasks and personally I look forward to providing the best performance for success for me, the team and the club’s loyal fans.”
Tomorrow’s opponents will provide some sense of nostaligia for Ahmed. His former side Shabab merged with fellow AGL giants Al Ahli in the summer, as well as Dubai CSC, to form the new Shabab Al Ahli.
But rather than focus on the demise of his former side, Ahmed is focused only on Al Ain’s future.
He said: “I do not think about it from the integration perspective as much as we focus on going out against an opponent, looking to win.”
Shabab Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu returns to the city where he enjoyed so much success, leading the Boss to back-to-back AGL titles in 2011/12 and 2012/13 before defecting to the Red Knights.
And Ahmed said there will be no sympathy for his former manager once the whistle blows.
“When we enter any football match I do not think about the faces or certain names as much as we focus on showing the fighting spirit and achieving a strong result,” he added.
Laurentiu Reghecampf has a warning for the rest of the Arabian Gulf League – Al Wahda are going to get better.
That’s pretty ominous considering the Clarets roared to the top of the maiden table of the season after rocketing in five goals in a 5-0 demolition of Dibba Al Fujairah on the opening weekend of the 2017/18 season.
Veteran talisman Sebastian Tagliabue netted yet another hat-trick for Wahda, while Hungary captain Balazs Dzsudzsak laid on two assists for Khalid Bawazir and Mohamed Al Shehhi in the rout – although Romanian Reghecampf felt it could have been more.
“The team could have added more goals compared to the opportunities created by the players,” said the former Al Hilal and Steaua Bucharest coach.
“We have a distinguished group of players who are able to make a difference against any competitor.
“We are in a good position but we have to focus and continue to work hard during the coming period, to raise the overall level of the team and wait for our best level.
“The technical staff is working on a daily basis in training to develop the mental abilities of the players to deal with the atmosphere associated with each game, and you will see the level of the team will rise and reap the fruits of the efforts made during the coming games.”
Reghecampf, who replaced Mexican Javier Aguirre in the summer after two trophy-laden spells at Al Nahyan Stadium, singled out youngsters Mohamed Al Akbari and goalkeeper Mohamed Al Shamsi for praise – the latter making his AGL debut for the Clarets, aged just 20.
“Mohammed Al Akbari showed a high level of skill in the performance and is still at a young age,” he said.
“He needs to gain more experience that will enable him to become one of the best young players in the league.
“Mohamed Al Shamsi is a young goalkeeper but he has provided a good level of performance and dealt well with the attempts on goal from Dibba.
“He has the potential to be among the best goalkeepers in the league, provided he continues to work in training to raise his level and gain more experience.”
Ayman El Ramady saw enough from his players in defeat to champions Al Jazira to suggest that Ajman can secure Arabian Gulf League survival on their return to the top-flight following a three-year hiatus.
The Orange Brigade were bright and busy at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, stifling Henk ten Cate’s hosts but also creating problems for a side whose rampant form last season and summer transfer business suggests they will once again be the team to beat in the Emirates in 2017/18.
They looked anything but champions against El Ramady’s newly-promoted team though and were lucky to escape with all three points after Brazilian winger Romarinho struck 10 minutes from time to spare their blushes.
Ex-Al Dhafra and Al Shaab coach El Ramady was encouraged by his team’s performance and says they will need to maintain this level in order to stay in the league.
“I’m happy for the team performance and I think we deserved one point,” said Egyptian El Ramady.
“And we need to maintain these performances. We are trying to maximise the positives. Overall we lost but hopefully we will recover and build up the positivity to encourage our players.”
Adeilson, snapped up from Brazilian Serie C side Tombense in the summer, impressed, as did journeyman forward Bakary Kone, formerly of Ittihad Kalba and Dibba Al Fujairah.
El Ramady also added Uzbekistan’s former Al Shabab midfielder Azizbek Haydarov in the summer, although he says their hopes of survival are linked to completing their foreign quota with a fourth signing required.
“It’s possible to survive in this league. But this depends on a few conditions,” added El Ramady.
“We need to complete our foreign quota. We have good foreign players but we need to sign a fourth one and get the best. We need to maximise our quota as they will provide 60 per cent of the strength of the team.
“Overall the local players are doing a good job but we have only two foreigners and Jazira have the best four in the league, so I think it was a reasonable performance.
“There are many reasons for only playing two foreigners and why we only have three. We are looking for another one. Unfortunately, the one player we wanted signed for someone in Saudi Arabia so the market is difficult right now. There are limitations on finding a suitable player.”
“Haydarov, he has been away with Uzbekistan playing in World Cup qualifiers, so we did not want to play him in the in the beginning so we gave him the second half.
“Overall I am happy with the performance and we will look to get better results in the coming matches.”
Emirati defender Rashed Malallah also missed the game due to a family emergency and El Ramady hopes to have him back for the visit of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai next Saturday.
El Ramady said: “We missed a very important player for us, Rashed Malallah, he missed the game at the last minute because his brother and family were in an accident, so I wish they recover soon.”