Al Ain are once again champions of the UAE, and it feels strange to admit that it’s been a long time coming.
Their 13th top-flight domestic title – one that sees them extend their record as the UAE’s most successful club over Al Wasl and Al Ahli (now Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club) – arrived courtesy of Saturday’s 4-0 hammering over resurgent Al Nasr.
It was a first trophy under affable Croatian Zoran Mamic – whose, up to now, barren tenure has been in stark contrast to the trophy-laden era of compatriot Zlatko Dalic and his predecessor Cosmin Olaroiu.
Three trophies were hoovered up by the now Croatia national team coach in a glorious three-year spell in the Garden City, while Romania’s Olaroiu won back-to-back titles from 2011-13, as well as 2012’s Arabian Gulf Super Cup.
However, it’s taken a little while for the seeds of further success sown by Mamic to blossom – the 2017/18 AGL title is Al Ain’s maiden trophy in 32 months, since the Arabian Gulf Super Cup was claimed in August 2015, ironically against Nasr.
It’s a gap in glory almost unimaginable to fathom when you consider the silverware tucked away in the club’s swollen trophy cabinet.
It’s been impressive to see Mamic stamp his own mark on the club this season, one which has for too long a period had the hulking shadow of Olaroiu, as well as the less frightening one of Dalic hanging above it.
Al Wahda’s chase had been impressive, as had the all-too-brief pursuit offered by Al Wasl, a rising AGL force but one that need to head back to the drawing board to combat a formidable return to form from the new champions.
Although Wasl have waned, Al Ain have been simply electric in their quest to return to the summit.
Only one game was lost this season – and even February’s 3-1 defeat to Sharjah was answered emphatically as Wahda were crushed 6-2 in the ensuing fixture.
Mamic has received huge returns from his formidable front line – an area of the field that has stymied the Boss in their relatively barren years.
Whereas the deadly Douglas had previously proved pretty prolific in front of goal, his confidence was shattered by a penalty miss in the AFC Champions League final second leg against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, with Al Ain defeated 3-2 and Douglas never recovering.
Replacement Marcus Berg is ice cold, underlining his superiority with a hat-trick against Nasr that carried his side to the title and him to the top of the AGL scoring charts.
Egyptian schemer Hussein El Shahat has proved an exquisite addition, the final piece of the puzzle, while youngster Rayan Yaslam has developed tremendously this season.
This return to success and all achieved without the withdrawn Omar Abdulrahman, whose season has been blighted by poor form, injury and indiscretion at international level.
The title has finally returned to the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. And if Amoory’s aura can likewise be rekindled, then who knows what more can follow next season.
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