Al Jazira begin life without inspirational coach Marcel Keizer when Al Nasr visit on Monday in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Keizer, 49, called an abrupt halt to five phenomenal months in Abu Dhabi when Portugal giants Sporting Lisbon came calling this week.
Assistant Damien Hertog, 44, has taken charge of a side who remain undefeated in the Arabian Gulf League and are well poised in the AG Cup’s Group B.
“First of all, I would like to thank the management of the club for their trust in my potential and my choice to oversee the team at this stage,” said the former APOEL No2 and Feyenoord academy manager.
“Marcel [Keizer] is with us for as long as possible, but we respect his decision and wish him success.
“I can assure that our work in the training exercises and matches will be undertaken with the same amount of enthusiasm and commitment, plus the desire to provide the best constantly.
Meanwhile, Al Ain tactician Zoran Mamic is fully prepared for the usual talent drain in the international break.
The Boss will be without six UAE call-ups, Sweden striker Marcus Berg and Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat for the trip to Fujairah.
“We will miss the efforts of our internationals, but my confidence remains great in all the elements,” said Mamic.
Al Wasl need to avert a crisis when they meet Ajman in Group A.
The managerless Cheetahs have won just one of their last eight matches, in all competitions.
“The performance of the whole team has been reduced in this period and not only the defence,” said defender Abdulrahman Ali.
The importance of a decision can often be determined by the status of the person making it.
This week’s proclamation to end encryption of the Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup could not have come from a higher source – His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE, Emir of Abu Dhabi and Supreme Commander of the Union Defence Force.
A flood of support followed on social media and beyond. The ‘blackout’ had not been popular.
UAE football already spends far too much time in the shadows without choosing, itself, to shut off wide sections of an already small television audience.
This interjection had been long awaited since 2015/16’s premature decision to offer a full pay model to view the Emirates’ top flight.
It was meant to echo the advancement of professionalism. The intervening years, however, have only highlighted the vast strides yet to be made by a competition that only dropped its amateur status a decade ago.
Put bluntly, people will pay to watch the Premier League, Serie A or La Liga. The AGL is a hard sell, for all but the most committed.
Encryption was designed to promote higher standards, grow revenue streams, improve financial self-sustainability and bring fans back into the stands after regular season-on-season attendance drops counted in double-digit percentage points.
On these counts, it can only be judged as a failure. Wrong time, wrong league.
But a reversal of policy, in this moment, should not be judged as a sign of weakness.
Forget Al Jazira’s headline-grabbing Ferrari giveaways in 2010/11 and 2012/13. Or 2015/16’s Mercedes raffle at – the now-defunct – Al Ahli. These stand as gimmicks, with little long-term value.
A broad, coherent strategy has been discernible during the two-year stewardship of visionary CEO, Waleed Al Hosani.
For the Abu Dhabi-native and boyhood Al Wahda fan, a sense of community has underpinned efforts to grow the domestic game.
The AGL has, for far too long, felt like a closed shop. Approximately 90 per cent of the UAE’s 9.5 million population are expatriates, and yet their presence has been ignored.
Marketing initiatives were not consistent and tickets were hard to procure for non-Arabic speakers.
Even among Emiratis, outreach programmes had, broadly, diminished since the amateur days.
Under previous regimes, the AGL appeared to be sleepwalking towards obscurity. Not anymore.
Rules by organisers, the Pro League Committee, have ensured funds are set aside by each of the 14 top-flight teams for marketing and community activities. Rather than the wages of another foreign signing.
In future, fan loyalty will be earned, rather than bought.
Electronic ticketing is now readily available and easily accessible in English or Arabic.
Social media was largely ignored for foreigners before 2018/19. The new English-language official Twitter account has discovered an entertaining ‘voice’ – it features shareable cartoons, enlightening infographics and even an interaction with the acerbic Roma account that has become such cult viewing.
The match-going experience is also set for vast improvement. A number of stadiums have been upgraded to the highest standards for January 2019’s Asian Cup.
Broken plastic seats and permanently closed food and beverage stands are, increasingly, a thing of the past.
Interest has been piqued. Yet these initiatives were useless when television was misused.
Now, a funny post might just lead the uninitiated to flick over to Abu Dhabi Sports or Dubai Sports. Critically, open minds will no longer be met with blank screens.
Marcel Keizer’s successful five-month tenure at Al Jazira is set to imminently end after a compensation package was agreed with Sporting Lisbon.
Keizer, 49, undertook training on Wednesday night – and could even stick around for Thursday’s session – ahead of landing in the Portuguese capital on Saturday as replacement for dismissed ex-Al Wahda and Sharjah coach Jose Peseiro. Leoes agreed to meet the €550,000 (Dh2.2 million) release clause in the two-year contract signed only in June by the ex-Ajax supremo.
A swift return to Europe proved too tempting and Jazira’s enamoured board could not convince him to stay. The club are now intent on appointing a third-successive Dutch coach.
Long-term Bert van Marwijk assistant Roel Coumans, 48, recently helped work wonders with Saudi Arabia, plus went with Australia to World Cup 2018.
Keizer’s No2, Damien Hertog, has also impressed senior figures, while the likes of ex-APOEL leader Mario Been are unattached.
Keizer – successor to the iconic Henk ten Cate – has overseen an unbeaten start in the Arabian Gulf League, plus a welcome return to a traditional swashbuckling style. Jazira currently sit second, only two points off leaders Sharjah.