The Arabian Gulf League returns this weekend for the 2019/20 season.
Champions Sharjah are the team everyone else will aim to topple between now and May.
To find out all you need to know about all 14 competitors, read our team-by-team guide below. If you are wondering which side to support, you’ll also find detailed reasons for each one:
Coach: Ivan Leko
2018/19 finish: 4th
Star player: Caio Canedo (r)
Major ins: Caio (Al Wasl), Mohamed Jamal (free, Al Jazira), Abderrahmane Meziane (free, USM Alger), Kodjo Fo Doh Laba (free, RS Berkane)
Major outs: Marcus Berg (free, Krasnodar), Caio (free, Benfica), Amer Abdulrahman (Al Jazira), Tongo Doumbia (Ajman)
Reason to support: The Boss’ dominance might be a reason to root against them normally, but they’re now something of an underdog. Whether they can rise to the challenge of their rivals will be fascinating to watch.
Prediction: Green shoots of recovery might well be witnessed in the Garden City, with the acquisition of prolific scorer and creator of AGL goals, Caio. Togo striker Laba could also blossom. A creaking backline, containing Ismail Ahmed (36) and Mohanad Salem (34), remains a concern though.
Coach: Ayman El Ramady
2018/19 finish: 7th
Star player: Vander Vieira (r)
Major ins: William Owusu (Royal Antwerp), Mohamed Ibrahim (Sharjah), Tongo Doumbia (Al Ain), Godwin Mensha (Esteghlal)
Major outs: Mohammed Hilal (free, Al Wasl), Mohammed Ali Shakir (Al Ain), Adil Hermach (released)
Reason to support: Not the whipping boys they once were, the Orange Brigade have shone bright in their two seasons back in the big time and really lit up the league last season. A heady seventh place finish under capable coach in El Ramady means they could test, rather than be fodder for, the elite.
Prediction: After such an unexpectedly high finish, it will be hard to replicate that feat, especially with the teams above them expected to produce possibly the most exciting title race in years. The only way might be down.
Coach: Winfried Schafer
2018/19 finish: 6th
Star player: Pedro Conde (r)
Major ins: Joao Victor (Cruzeiro), Luiz Antonio (Al Shabab), Ayanda Patosi (Cape Town City), Sasa Ivkovic (Maribor)
Major outs: Yousef Jaber (free, Shabab Al Ahli), Michael Ortega (free, Omonia Nicosia), Haboosh Saleh (free, Al Wasl), Leroy George (released)
Reason to support: Out in the sticks of Abu Dhabi’s suburbs, with Jazira and Wahda taking up all the breathing space, little attention is paid to the Sky Blues. And yet, they were superb last season and worth trekking outside the city limits to see. Striker Pedro Conde is worth the admission price alone.
Prediction: Uncertain. After a terrific return in which they finished just five and six points off their big brothers from the capital, there have been a raft of incomings and departures. Bundesliga and AFCON-winning boss Schafer though should provide structure.
Coach: Vuk Rasovic
2018/19 finish: 10th
Star player: Khaled Bawazir (r)
Major ins: Joao Pedro (free, Al Fateh), Mikhail Rosheuvel (free, NAC Breda), Diego Jardel (free, Al Arabi), Rashed Muhayer (Al Ain), Issam El Adoua (Al Kuwait Sports Club)
Major outs: Nicolas Milesi (Al Wahda), Diego (Deportivo Toluca)
Reason to support: Stuck way out in the Western Region, Dhafra need all the support they can get. In all seriousness, after ushering in stability last season following a relegation flirt, Rasovic’s signings hint at a more attack-minded assault on the AGL. Jardel and Pedro are already among the goals in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Prediction: The Western Knights finished as far off relegation as they did from the top six. Much improved, possibilities appear vast. Perhaps progress in form of higher points and position should be the simple goal, though.
Coach: Madjid Bougherra
2018/19 finish: 12th
Star player: Fernando Gabriel
Major ins: Alassane Meite (free, Leicester), William Jebor (free, Wydad Casablanca), Abdalla Saleh (free, Al Wasl), Jhonnattann (Al Taawoun)
Major outs: Mohamed Benyettou (Al Wakrah), Hassan Ameen (free, Khor Fakkan), Danjuma Kuti (free, Minerva Punjab), Mohamed Khalfan (Sharjah)
Reason to support: It seems to be the season for the return of club icons, with Man United and Chelsea legends Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Frank Lampard now in charge of the clubs at which they made their names. Effervescent ex-Rangers defender Bougherra spent two seasons as a player at Fujairah, which will provide fans with a fillip.
Prediction: The Wolves initially feasted upon their AGL return – winning three and drawing two of their opening seven games. They won just two of their next 19 though, six points arriving in their final three games, to finish three above relegated Emirates Club. They have a scrap on their hands.
Coach: Christos Kontis
2018/19 finish: 2nd, First Division League
Star player: Cristian Lopez
Major ins: Daniel Amora (Al Raed), Abdulla Kazim (loan, Al Wasl), Cristian Lopez (Amiens), Cleylton (Belenenses SAD), Waleed Sirag (Ittihad Kalba), Yousif Saeed (loan, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club)
Major outs: Gilmar, Luan (both Al Hamriyah)
Reason to support: Take a road trip to the Hajar Mountains and experience one of football’s most-picturesque grounds. The backdrop to the action is utterly breath-taking, plus provides a welcome break from the slog of city life in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Watching how rookie coach Kontis gets on provides value, as well.
Prediction: Hatta are destined for a season-long slog against an instant return to the second division. Ignore the 4-3 loss to second-string Al Wasl in the Arabian Gulf Cup; goals should be a problem all season long. The likes of Cleylton and Amora need to provide a solid platform the club can build upon.
Coach: Fabio Viviani
2018/19 finish: 11th
Star player: Balazs Dzsudzsak
Major ins: Henrique (Corinthians), Peniel Mlapa (Dynamo Dresden), Waleed Ambar (loan, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club), Yaseen Al Bakhit (Dibba Al Fujairah), Yaqoub Yousef (Al Jazira), Saeed Musabbeh (Al Ain)
Major outs: Tommy Tobar (Emirates Club), Waleed Sirag (Hatta), Giovanni Sio (end of loan, Montpellier)
Reason to support: If you are a fan of traditional wing play, then Kalba are the club for you. Hungary flyer Dzsudzsak is often worth the price of admission alone. This dynamism has only been added to by the superb Jordan international Al Bakhit.
Prediction: Kalba have been smart shoppers. Centre forward Mlapa should represent a significant upgrade on the departed Tobar, while Emirati additions Yousef and Musabbeh provide valuable experience. The only concern is coach Viviani – he’s overseen an ongoing 13-match AGL winless streak. Kalba should have too much to go down.
Coach: Jurgen Streppel
2018/19 finish: 5th
Star player: Ali Mabkhout
Major ins: Milos Kosanovic (Standard Liege), Sultan Al Ghaferi, Mourad Batna (both free, Al Wahda), Omar Abdulrahman (free, Al Hilal), Keno (loan, Pyramids FC), Amer Abdulrahman (Al Ain)
Major outs: Ernest Asante (Al Hazem), Yaqoub Yousef (free, Ittihad Kalba), Leonardo (free, Tianjin Tianhai), Mohamed Jamal (free, Al Ain), Eissa Al Otaiba (free, Bani Yas), Sultan Al Shamsi, Shahin Surour (both Bani Yas)
Reason to support: Two words: Omar Abdulrahman. Add in another four: Ali Mabkhout, Khalfan Mubarak. Jazira possess arguably the league’s most potent attack – and they’re all Emirati. With Mubarak and the returning poster boy of UAE football feeding Mabkhout, the Pride of Abu Dhabi should score goals for fun.
Prediction: With the addition of Mourad Batna and Keno, Jazira’s front line should be fearsome and a title tilt is the very minimum required. If Kosanovic adds ballast at the back, they should be among the favourites.
Coach: Paulo Comelli
2018/19 finish: Champions, First Division League
Star player: Bismark
Major ins: Bismark (loan, Al Qadsiah), Robson (Boavista), Ahmed Al Yassi (Al Nasr), Dodo (loan, Atletico Mineiro), Pedro Junior (Buriram United), Hassan Ameen (Fujairah)
Major outs: Rodriguinho (free transfer), Myroslav Slavov (Riga)
Reason to support: An exciting project to reinvigorate football in this idyllic part of the Emirates is now well under way. Central to the promoted side’s progress not being checked is summer addition Bismark. The 26-year-old midfielder is a regular scorer of staggering goals.
Prediction: The avoidance of relegation is paramount among thoughts at the side known as Al Khaleej until 2017’s rebranding exercise. Well-travelled manager Comelli staved it off at Emirates Club and Dibba Al Fujairah. Can he do the same again? Al Yassi and Robson stiffen the defence, while Bismark and Pedro Junior must strike at the other end. Expect survival.
Coach: Caio Zanardi
2018/19 finish: 8th
Star player: Alvaro Negredo
Major ins: Brandley Kuwas (Heracles Almelo), Toze (Vitoria Guimaraes), Esteban Pavez (Colo-Colo)
Major outs: Joan Oumari (Vissel Kobe), Samuel Rosa (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Junior Dutra (end of loan, Corinthians), Ronnie Fernandez (end of loan, Al Fayha), Ahmed Al Yassi (Khor Fakkan), Masoud Sulaiman (Al Dhafra), Al Hussain Saleh (loan, Al Wahda)
Reason to support: If creature comforts and an Allianz Arena-inspired setting is your thing, then Al Nasr are the club for you. Conveniently located in the heart of Dubai, the renovated Al Maktoum Stadium is already one of Asia’s best arenas. Nasr are also the UAE’s oldest oufit.
Prediction: Predicting what is to come for one of the AGL’s most-erratic sides is a losing game. Negredo has already scored a stupefying goal in the Arabian Gulf Cup. New boys Kuwas and Toze ooze creativity. They should be pushing for AFC Champions League qualification. But will they?
SHABAB AL AHLI DUBAI CLUB
Coach: Rodolfo Arruabarrena
2018/19 finish: 2nd
Star player: Majed Hassan
Major ins: Leonardo (free transfer, Al Wahda), Yousef Jaber (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club), Davide Mariani (Levski Sofia), Fede Cartabia (loan, Deportivo La Coruna)
Major outs: Saeed Jassim (loan, Hatta), Waleed Ambar (loan, Ittihad Kalba), Emiliano Vecchio (end of loan, Santos)
Reason to support: Grafite, Ricardo Quaresma and Fabio Cannavaro all featured for previous itineration, Al Ahli. The current crop won both cups last term and look poised for a title tilt. Leonardo will thrill.
Prediction: The time has come for great promise to be turned into the UAE’s grandest prize. A lack of creativity, however, in last week’s penalty loss to 10-man Sharjah in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup provided a reality check. It’s going to be tight at the top for the double cup holders.
Coach: Abdulaziz Al Anbari
2018/19 finish: Champions
Star player: Igor Coronado
Major ins: Ricardo Gomes (Partizan Belgrade), Tareq Ahmed, Salem Sultan, Mohammed Abdulbasit (all Al Wahda), Mohamed Khalfan (Fujairah)
Major outs: Welliton (free transfer, Al Wasl), Mohammed Salem (Fujairah), Mohamed Ibrahim (Ajman)
Reason to support: For Leicester City in 2015/16, read Sharjah in 2018/19. The King came from nowhere to wear a crown they’d last donned in 1995/96. With new striker Ricardo Gomes already among the goals, they’ll be a stirring watch.
Prediction: The grit demonstrated to play with 10 men for an hour and still defeat Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club on penalties in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup spoke volumes. The AFC Champions League will provide a distraction, but they’ll take some stopping domestically.
Coach: Maurice Steijn
2018/19 finish: 3rd
Star player: Yahya Al Ghassani (r)
Major ins: Carlitos (Legia Warsaw), Nicolas Milesi (Al Dhafra), Al Hussain Saleh (Al Nasr)
Major outs: Mourad Batna (free, Al Jazira), Sultan Al Ghaferi (free, Al Jazira), Tareq Ahmed, Salem Sultan, Mohammed Abdulbasit (all Sharjah), Leonardo (free, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai)
Reason to support: Only cross-city rivals Jazira scored more goals (66) in the AGL last season than Wahda’s 63. So if entertainment is your thing, Al Nahyan Stadium is the place for you.
Prediction: The search for that elusive fifth title stretches into a 10th year. Wahda have been so close in recent years and yet so far. Evergreen Sebastian Tagliabue will keep firing and they have one of the league’s leading talents in Al Ghassani. But the loss of Leonardo leaves a huge hole. They’ll be in the reckoning, but too many rivals have an edge.
Coach: Laurentiu Reghecampf
2018/19 finish: 9th
Star player: Fabio De Lima
Major ins: Fernando Gaibor (loan, Independiente), Welliton (free transfer, Sharjah), Lucas Galvao (FC Ingolstadt), Nasser Abdulhadi (free transfer, Al Wahda), Haboosh Saleh (free transfer, Bani Yas)
Major outs: Caio Canedo (Al Ain), Waheed Ismail (Ajman), Abdulla Kazim (loan, Hatta), Lima (end of loan, Gremio)
Reason to support: The AGL comes alive when Bur Dubai neighbours Al Nasr and Wasl meet. The Cheetahs also boast a certain Diego Maradona among their former coaches, while brilliant Brazilian De Lima is a sensational talent.
Prediction: 2018/19 was a shambles for a club with two-consecutive third-placed finishes. Reghecampf remains ill-suited, while recruitment has been questionable. Mid-table beckons.
Ryan Mendes was the hero for gutsy 10-man Sharjah as they valiantly prevailed on penalties against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup.
Saturday’s first half of few chances amid the constricting 68-per-cent humidity at Dubai’s Al Maktoum Stadium reached boiling point upon the half-hour mark. UAE left-back Al Hassan Saleh floored compatriot Abdulaziz Haikal with a flailing elbow, reviews of which via the video assistant referee then convincing referee Mohammed Obaid Khadim to produce a red card.
President’s Cup holders Shabab Al Ahli predictably dominated possession from that point. The Arabian Gulf League runners-up struggled, however, to find a way past the obstinate defence of the top-flight champions.
Misses from 12 yards by Deportivo La Coruna loanee Fede Cartabia and Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor would then prove critical in the shootout. It was left to Cape Verde winger Mendes to spark a pitch invasion when his resounding effort made it 4-3 from the spot, ending the King’s 25-year wait for a third Super Cup.
Here are the talking points from UAE football’s traditional season opener:
WHAT WE LEARNED
Great insights are hard to glean from a ceremonial clash played before the top-flight action begins.
This is especially true when a player is sent off with an hour left.
What the 9,241 fans in Al Nasr’s redeveloped home did witness was a supposed upstart, in Sharjah, declining to show any deference to one of the professional game’s established powers. The shock 2018/19 AGL winners are going nowhere.
Gilded attackers Igor Coronado and Mendes dug in. Not even a stark imbalance in possession percentage of 80/20 and difference in attempts of 18/3 could rock them.
👑 @SharjahFC are the 2019/20 #AGSuperCup champions!— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague_EN) September 14, 2019
It was a hard-fought match between them & 🔴 @Shabab_AlAhliFC , but ultimately Sharjah go home with the trophy 🏆 #MatchOfChampions pic.twitter.com/VyzRZbdgkN
For Shabab Al Ahli, hotly recruited 2019 AFC Champions League top scorer Leonardo showed flashes. His delicate lofted pass in first-half injury time allowed 22-year-old forward Mohammed Jumaa to sting goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani’s hands with a half-volley – this was the tense showpiece’s only opportunity of note.
Injury prone UAE striker Ahmed Khalil’s presence as a second-half substitute offers the prospect of a required spearhead.
The lottery of the penalty shootouts witnessed Sharjah prevail.
They are here to stay. Shabab Al Ahli should be right with them.
SHAHEEN’S BIG STAND
Confusion has proliferated at Sharjah about new UAE coach Bert van Marwijk continued ignorance of warrior skipper Shaheen Abdulrahman.
Shouts for a belated call-up to October’s World Cup 2022 qualifiers against Indonesia and Thailand only increased in volume this weekend.
The gnarled centre-back – bearing a plaster on his eyebrow from the preceding Arabian Gulf Cup win at Ajman – relished the battle against Shabab Al Ahli. He was a talisman once Al Saleh was ejected and the tie descended into a classic ‘defence v attack contest’.
Al Jazira’s youthful pair of Khalifa Al Hammadi and Mohammed Al Attas are enviable talents. They exhibited, however, in last week’s tense opening 2-1 win in Malaysia that an injection of grit alongside them would not go amiss.
Abdulrahman’s industrial qualities are reminiscent of 2015 Asian Cup warrior Mohanad Salem. His case for consideration at the international stage should not be so readily dismissed.
There is much to ponder for Shabab Al Ahli coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena.
The ex-Argentina left-back ditched his usual reticence in the final throes, unable to cope with watching dead end after dead run down by numerically superior charges.
One part of their trio of foreign additions, in particular, failed to flourish. A bold call was made to mothball ex-FC Dallas playmaker Mauro Diaz and draft in Levski Sofia’s Davide Mariani.
The Swiss conductor dropped deep in a 4-3-3, failing to make any genuine impact during 62 forgettable minutes.
FULL TIME! 🔴 Shabab Al Ahli 0-0 👑 Sharjah— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague_EN) September 14, 2019
Only penalty shootouts left to separate the two sides! Who will hold their nerves and win the match from the spot? #AGSuperCup
Diaz’s debut campaign for the AGL runners-up included five goals and six assists in 23 top-flight run-outs. A solid return.
Will Mariani, or indeed Cartabia who rocked the crossbar in the shootout, match it?
Shabab Al Ahli midfielder Davide Mariani is excited about the prospect of winning his first silverware in UAE football as his side takes on Sharjah in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup at Al Maktoum Stadium on Saturday.
The Swiss playmaker insisted his team’s preparations for the game are progressing well, adding that he expects a huge show of support from the Shabab Al Ahli faithful to propel them into the title.
Mariani, a recent arrival at Rashid Stadium from Bulgarian side Levski Sofia, hailed the atmosphere at his new side as motivating for the players to perform. “I am happy to be here. Everyone is supporting me and helping me adapt to life here,” he said ahead of what is expected to be a fiery affair as the President’s Cup winners find themselves face to face with the Arabian Gulf League champions.
“I feel like we have a team spirit and that will help us achieve great things together.
“I learnt that Sharjah are a strong side with a solid squad that has won the league. We have to be at our best and give our everything to overcome them.”
Sharjah goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani, meanwhile, is predicting a difficult match, with equal chances for both sides.
“It will be a strong encounter and both sides have an equal chance until kick-off, while concentration will be key to winning,” said last season’s Golden Glove winner.
“I hope our fans will turn up in numbers to support us, because their role is as important as ours. We are used to having them by our side and with their presence, the trophy will be ours.”
Shabab Al Ahli hold the record for Arabian Gulf Super Cup wins with four titles (2008/09, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2016/17). Al Ain and Al Wahda lead the chasing pack with three titles each, while Emirates Club have a sole title in 2010/11.
Six players share top spot in the competition’s scoring charts with two strikes each. Al Ain’s Emerson in 2009/10, Emirates’ Karim Karkar in 2010/11, Wahda’s Hugo Henrique in 2011/12 and Al Ain’s Emmanuel Emenike in 2015/16.
Moroccan winger Mourad Batna is the only player to have scored in two different editions of the Super Cup with the same team, having netted for Wahda in 2017/18 and 2018/19. Ibrahim Diaky remains the only player to have scored Super Cup goals for two different sides, first in Al Jazira colours in 2011/12 then in Al Ain’s shirt last season.