Timing is crucial in football. The aftermath of Al Wahda’s shock decision to dispense with coach Jose Peseiro has proven this maxim.
An epic penalty loss to Qatar’s Al Sadd in successor Sami Al Jaber’s debut saw the Clarets fail to reach the AFC Champions League group stage, while a 4-1 Arabian Gulf League thrashing at third-bottom Sharjah followed last weekend.
The whys and wherefores of the choice to bin Peseiro have been well aired already.
This was a man who had taken the club from distant mid-table on arrival in winter 2013 to second last term, a 20-match unbeaten top-flight being registered along the way.
Judging by results alone, the Portuguese should never have been sacked.
But when a fracture appears between a coach and senior management, there can only ever be one winner.
Peseiro’s vetoing of the pursuit of Australia star Tim Cahill was valiant, but seemingly doomed him to his fate.
A change of course by the Clarets was always likely from that point.
In hindsight, their choice to draft in a new boss seems shortsighted at best.
Two damaging losses in a week have seen their continental dreams disappear this term and threaten next season’s.
It is all too easy to now jump to the conclusion that Al Jaber is not cut out for the post, doing a shocking disservice to one of Asian football’s greateast-ever figures.
The 42-year-old possesses gravitas in abundance, plus experience of European football as a player and assistant coach.
An unforgivably short one-season spell in charge of Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal ended with the sack, despite gaining the 2013-14 Saudi Federation Cup and runners-up spots in the Crown Prince Cup and Saudi Professional League.
Al Jaber is clearly no mug.
Once Wahda made the brutal decision to let Peseiro go, they moved swiftly to secure an ideal replacement.
The concession of two late goals at home to Emirates Club to draw 2-2 on February 8 proved a politically-apt moment.
Their cataclysmic error was in the period of the season they decided to make the switch. Al Sadd are a superb side, ACL quarter-finalist last term.
The Al Nahyan Stadium-outfit needed to be at their optimum to stand any chance of progression.
The fact they came painfully close last week to pulling off the result is to Al Jaber’s immense credit.
Any coach nursing troops drained in body and mind after their midweek disappointment could have suffered the result that followed at Sharjah.
The fit of pique to dispense with Peseiro saw the club sacrifice a continental campaign that could have done so much for a young team that is enjoying rapid development.
The ripples from Peseiro’s exit will long continue to cause disruption.
Ali the only man to lead the UAE
A month was all it took for the UAE Football Association to come to their senses and reward coach Mahdi Ali for his continued brilliance.
The 49-year-old was arguably the coach of the Asian Cup, defeating holders Japan on the way to securing third spot.
Huge plaudits across the continent and beyond were gained by the former international midfielder for allowing a young side to fulfil their destiny.
Make no mistake, there is no better or more worthy man to guide this gifted generation to the 2018 World Cup.
The silence had been deafening about Ali’s future, repeat talk of an extension to a deal which was to expire in July previously coming to nothing.
He deserved huge reward for his efforts and a public show of faith for what he has achieved in developing this group of players from promising youngsters, to
impressing at the London 2012 Olympics, winning the 2013 Gulf Cup and excelling Down Under.
UAE officials insisted the lack of agreement had nothing to do with the upcoming 2016 board elections, that could have seen a manager well into a lengthy contract put upon a regime that didn’t want him.
But who could be better for the Whites job than Ali?
All too often, expensive foreign options are taken by impatient Middle Eastern nations. Ali’s homegrown success has proven a welcome alternative.
Al Ahli defied a comical display from goalkeeper Majed Nasser to open their 2015 AFC Champions League campaign with an uplifting 3-3 draw against Al Ahli Jeddah.
The shotstopper – ironclad during the UAE’s run to third at January’s Asian Cup – imploded at Rashid Stadium, bailed out by a match-saving brace from winger Ismail Al Hammadi.
His first mistake was embarrassing, the second technical. They defined a Group D meeting in which the Red Knights appeared reinvigorated by a distraction from their domestic travails, coming back from behind three times.
A group-stage ACL exit was the only blot during coach Cosmin Olaroiu’s incredible debut season. They now look set to battle against a repeat.
The Romanian coach hoped a new competition would breathe fresh life into his side. If they perform like this for the next few months, a charge up the Arabian Gulf League table cannot be discounted.
The trick is to harness the determination and ambition used to such positive effect against the Saudi Prrofessional League’s second-placed side when Fujairah travel to Dubai on March 8.
— Al Ahli Club (@AlAhliClub) February 25, 2015
In a season full of despair for the treble holders, they also showed unforeseen character to draw level for the final occasion soon after skipper Luis Jimenez’s brutal challenge from behind on Al Ahli-old boy Osvaldo saw deserved red.
The Red Knights got off to the worst-possible start, Nasser creating a moment in the second minute already being shared with relish on social media.
The ex-Al Wasl star carried out an air shot on full-back Abdelaziz Haikal’s measured back pass, allowing winger Osvaldo – who was dispatched on loan several times during his stay from 2008 to 2012 – to slide the ball home despite the keeper’s despairing challenge.
Ahli have sunk from such disappointments before this term, but this time they rose – repeatedly – to fight back.
— Al Ahli Club (@AlAhliClub) February 25, 2015
A succession of chances ended with Al Hammadi gaining his first, slamming home with a rasping low shot from inside the box. Two penalty shouts were then turned down as the hosts turned the screw.
Their seemed only one winner from this point, but the defensive demons that have hampered progress appeared again. Midfielder Hussain Al Moqahwi was left completely unmarked, against the run of play, to nod Al Malaki back in front with five minutes left until the break.
A deficit at the interval would have been crushing. Instead, Jimenez’s cross rebounded off right-back Amir Kurdy into the path of grateful forward Ahmed Khalil to tap in to an open net.
Christian Gross’ visitors began the second half the brighter, though an error from Nasser was key to their third. Saudi Arabia midfielder Taisir Al-Jassim danced past three piecemeal challenges, his shot from a tight angle that favoured the goalkeeper squirming cringingly in.
— Al Ahli Club (@AlAhliClub) February 25, 2015
Jimenez’s dismissal appeared to extinguish all hope. A top-flight run of two defeats and a draw to second-bottom Ajman containing no goals not eliciting thought of a revival.
This countenanced Al Hammadi’s desire. The Whites winger was in the right place to profit from a deflected Khalil shot, firing in off defender Mohamed Abdelshafi to show Al Ahli intend to fight for their ACL dream.
Rashid Stadium erupted, a fan overcome by the leveller feinting in front of the press box.
He recovered in time to see the Red Knights close out the game despite their numerical disadvantage. Watching Ahli this term has been testing, by any measure.
These were the tentative first steps from two sides eager to make real inroads during the 2015 AFC Champions League.
A goalless opening Group B stalemate suits visitors Al Shabab Riyadh slightly more, yet Al Ain will not have departed the lively Hazza bin Zayed Stadium disappointed.
This competition brought so much joy for the hosts in 2014, the run to the semi-finals cementing coach Zlatko Dalic’s reign along with May’s President’s Cup success. Yesterday’s match was tight and absorbing, despite the absence of obvious excitement.
How the Croatian will pine for the return of inspirational playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, who was unable to celebrate the signature of his three-year deal by recovering from a hamstring complaint in time to take to the pitch.
The only chances of the game fell the Boss’ way, a superb block from diligent defensive midfielder Abdulrahman Alkhaibary preventing Ibrahim Diaky from forcing an early lead, while Asamoah Gyan –scorer of 12 continental goals last term – was a constant menace in the air against giant compatriot Mohammed Awal.
Last term’s Saudi King Cup of Champions winners never got started. The choice to restrict Saudi Arabia striker Naif Hazazi to a second-half substitute’s role robbed them of a real threat.
Despite having the better chances, Al Ain were unable to show any real fluidity or truly test the imposing Green Falcons national goalkeeper, Waleed Abdullah.
The draw sets up a tight run between them in a tricky-looking pool that also features Uzbekistan Professional Football League champions Pakhtakor and Naft Tehran.
The latter are up next for the Boss on Tuesday, a trip to the Iranian capital not one to take lightly.
This Al Ain was a world away from the toothless outfit that lost to Fujairah last Thursday in the Arabian Gulf League. Last season’s run to a heartbreaking last-four defeat to Al Hilal has made them streetwise, comfortable in such tight environs.
— Al Ain FC (@alainfcae) February 24, 2015
The sense of occasion was added to by Dalic eschewing his usual purple polo shirt for a smart dark blazer and shoes. His troops were well drilled and armed with the knowledge to down their Saudi opponents.
An early lead should have been provided by Diaky. The veteran attacking midfielder was played in by an excellent Lee Myung-joo pass, a moment’s dallying inside the penalty box allowing Alkhaibary to block.
Shabab closed ranks from this point, stalemate ensuing.
Two more opportunities came in quick succession before the break. Gyan used his trademark spring to force Abdullah to push away a goal-bound header, the Ghana captain looking further down the road to recovery after the disruption caused by 2015 Africa Cup of Nations final defeat.
Winger Miroslav Stoch then curled a 25-yard effort just wide of the left-hand post as the Boss ended the first half the stronger.
They were unable to carry the momentum with them after the break. It took until the 79th minute for anything of note to occur, Stoch again shooting from distance.
The cost of defeat was weighing heavily on both coach’s minds, neither prepared to loosen the leashes.
White Lion right-back Hassan Fallatah fired in their only meaningful effort on 81 minutes, the rasping 20-yard shot pushed away uncertainly by Khalid Essa in the Al Ain goal.
Deep into injury-time the sight of Stoch standing over a 25-yard free-kick had Shabab supporters sweating.
His disappointing efforts went high and wayward, neatly encapsulating a meeting that promised so much but delivered little of substance.