Jovanovic, 55, inked a deal until 2018/19 last week to replace dismissed ex-Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. The Blue Wave sacked the aforementioned Serb in October 2016 when his trophy-laden, three-and-a-half-year reign unravelled at alarming pace.
“You cannot overlook the impact and difficulty of making a technical change in mid-season on the players, because each coach has his own way and training style,” said Jovanovic. “But these problems will not affect us, as I am not a stranger to this team.”
An extensive list is hampering Jovanovic’s hopes of a winning return. These include unfortunate striker Wanderley, ex-Jazira midfielder Abdelaziz Barrada and occasional UAE call-up Fawaz Awana.
They face opponents for whom off-field problems have bled onto the pitch. Their last two results were a 2-0 reversal to Al Wahda in the Year of Zayed Arabian Gulf Super Cup, while minnows Dibba Al Fujairah fought back from two-goals down in the last 10 minutes to draw in the top flight.
Meanwhile, Dibba coach Paulo Comeli has consigned previous success against promoted Ajman to “the past” as he prepares for a relegation six-pointer.
A double from the now-released Brazilian forward Ciel earned a 2-0 triumph in September. With both sides a handful of points outside the drop zone, the Fishermen supremo is not taking repeat success for granted.
He said: “The previous result is in the past now and Ajman are much stronger.”
The stakes have changed in a fixture which, for so long, defined UAE football. But its penchant for drama and surprise remains.
Red-hot nights at Rashid Stadium were guaranteed when the hated Al Ain stepped foot in Dubai to face Al Ahli. They shared Arabian Gulf League titles – each one from 2011/12-2015/16 – and coaches, the belligerent Cosmin Olaroiu ensuring villain status for eternity with his seismic defection from the Boss nearly five years ago.
These were clashes which truly mattered. Now…. not so much.
Teething problems and diminished horizons since May’s merger ensured the new Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club came into the fixture only six points from the drop zone and a once-unthinkable 15 points off the leaders from the Garden City. That is what a winless streak in the top flight stretching back to October 14 – and now 10 matches – will do.
A bloodied nose was all Mahdi Ali’s charges could deliver last night – and a gift for AL Wasl and Al Wahda
Substitute Saeed Jassem delivered it with his 77th-minute header against the run of play. This punished the pacesetters for sterile domination that only served up a typically assured finish from Sweden no9 Marcus Berg, 11 minutes earlier.
Not even the emotional sight of forward Ahmed Khalil returning to the Rashid in purple could stoke the flames. Berg’s header that flashed wide from the boyhood Ahli man’s centre was the best moment of a drab first half.
Unsurprisingly, superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman’s presence in the stands because of his controversial domestic ban for an infraction on UAE duty did not help.
Yet Al Ain thought they’d claimed a valuable win when Berg pivoted in the penalty box and lashed in an 11th goal in 13 top-flight matches.
The stage was then set for Jassem to play spoiler. He was the beneficiary of poor marking from UAE centre-back Ismail Ahmed.
In response, UAE prospect Rayan Yaslam and veteran replacement Ibrahim Diaky rattled the woodwork.
A relieved Shabab Al Ahli greeted the final whistle with resounding cheers. This truly is a new reality.
The backlash against the UAE Football Association’s decision to hand out controversial domestic bans for star duo Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout’s breaking of curfew at the Gulf Cup began on Wednesday as both lodged appeals, while coaches at their clubs expressed outrage.
2016 AFC Player of the Year Abdulrahman, 26, and 2015 Asian Cup leading marksman Mabkhout, 27, were given four-match suspensions on Tuesday after they had been found guilty of leaving the team’s hotel in Kuwait City without permission from 20:15-22:30 the night before January 5’s dismal penalty-shootout defeat to Oman in the final. Utility-man Mohammed Fawzi, 27, was also found to have been part of the infraction, but escaped a ban as he was unavailable for the game.
Mabkhout and Fawzi’s Al Jazira have joined Al Ain’s Abdulrahman in officially contesting the charges.
Both tacticians echoed this stance. A venomous diatribe was delivered by the Boss’ Croatian supremo Zoran Mamic, who will be missing ‘Amoory’ from Friday’s Arabian Gulf League-clash at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club until February 16’s Arabian Gulf Cup quarter-final decider versus Al Wasl.
He said: “I personally believe the decision to suspend the player is illegal, this is the first time I’ve heard such discussions because the players were going out with permission and sometimes without permission. But after the loss [to Oman], they [UAE FA] changed the laws to punish the players.”
The Pride of Abu Dhabi’s Henk ten Cate was similarly perplexed. Mabkhout was absent as they drew 2-2 on Wednesday night with Dibba Al Fujairah.
He said: “I do not understand the punishment of a player with his club when the issue was with the UAE.”