New Al Jazira coach Henk Ten Cate is under no illusion he must restore the self-belief of his players if they want to be successful and has set an immediate target of reaching this season’s AFC Champions League group stage.
The Dutchman has signed a contract until the end of the season, with an option for renewal, taking over from Abel Braga, who was sacked after three wins in 16 games earlier this month.
Ten Cate, 61, inherits a squad languishing in 10th position in the AGL, 20 points behind leaders Al Ain and already out of the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Xavi’s Al Sadd stand in Pride of Abu Dhabi’s way in the Champions League group with the two sides meeting in February’s qualifier.
But Ten Cate’s first task is motivating his players ahead of their first AGL game away at Al Wasl on January 8.
“I can promise to the fans that we will do our utmost to get the best out of this team,” said the former Chelsea and Barcelona assistant coach.
“It’s important we play good football but to start with, we need to build the confidence of the players.
“If you’re losing games that in itself loses confidence and we need to bring back this confidence. You only get that by winning games. The most important thing is bring back the spirit in the team, and with this, I’m sure we can win a lot of games.
“You will see a team who are fit and fight for every ball. For now, it’s the most we can promise.”
The ex-Al Ahli coach added: “The main aim is to qualify for the AFC Champions League. It’s not going to be easy because we have the strongest opponent in Al Sadd and Xavi is still there.
“Also to go far in the President’s Cup is a big thing but I feel Al Jazira has to be in the Champions League.”
Ten Cate, who revealed he turned down the chance to work at Al Jazira in 2003 in favour of a move to the Nou Camp, has already taken charge of training and has been impressed by what he saw.
Rueing the absence of injured attacking duo Jefferson Farfan and Mirko Vucinic, Ten Cate said it was important to look at the team quality before deciding what strategies to play.
“There a good use of local players and it’s about time to show what they can do. I hope they will show it,” he said.
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“Age doesn’t matter. If you’re good enough you’re old enough. We had two under-19 players train with us and we will give everyone a chance to play football.”
And the ex-midfielder refused to be drawn whether he would dip into the transfer market. He said: “If we talk about players we don’t have, then it’s demotivating for those who are with us.”
But club chief executive Ayed Mabkhout, added: “We are working now with the sporting director to try and look for new players.”
Turkish giants Galatasaray could be set to offer misfit winger Ryan Babel a winter escape from Al Ain.
Babel, 29, has proven an unseemly dud since his summer switch. The ex-Liverpool winger has only scored once in eight Arabian Gulf League appearances and a second social media faux pas in November saw him temporarily banished to the Under-21s.
Despite his travails in the UAE, he retains a solid reputation in the Super Lig earned at previous club Kasimpasa. He turned down Besiktas to move to the Boss and fellow Istanbul giants Gala have registered firm interest in him this month.
Al Ain are more than happy to sell the 29-year-old when the winter transfer window opens this week. This would free up a space in their foreign quartet for the recruitment of a top-line striker, allowing Fenerbahce loanee Emmanuel Emenike to play in his favoured wide-attacking role.
Preliminary overtures in this regard have already been made to Flamengo centre forward Paolo Guerrero, though contrary to reports in Brazil this has not seen a bid made.
The former Bayern Munich youngster has only scored three goals in 15 appearances since a free transfer switch in May to Mengao. But his pedigree with Peru, exploits at previous team Corinthians and ability to lead the line have piqued the Boss’ interest.
The Al Ain hierarchy considered tearing up Babel’s two-year deal last month after an Instagram post which featured an obscene gesture and the club’s name.
This followed the international furore in August when he issued a series of sexist messages on Twitter. But rather than dispatch their errant signing on a free, the prospect of gaining a small fee is being favoured.
Babel would also take little convincing to make a quick-fire exit from the AGL holders if Gala were prepared to make an offer.
His lacklustre displays and public persona have grated with the Al Ain support, who have repeatedly called for his immediate removal.
He has also failed to integrate himself into the squad, meaning his departure would not be mourned by his team-mates.
Royston Drenthe admits he’s been left disappointed by his displays this season but the midfielder has warned rival AGL teams it’s only a matter of time before he shows his true potential for Bani Yas.
The Dutchman has struggled to make an impact since his arrival on a free transfer in the summer and is yet to score for the Sky Blues in 10
appearances in all competitions.
But the 28-year-old has shown he is beginning to find his feet in the UAE and was one of Bani Yas’ key players in their 2-2 draw against Al Wahda on Saturday night.
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Former Feyenoord and Madrid midfielder Drenthe was involved in the play leading up to his side’s opener, before causing problems for Wahda’s defence in his preferred left-wing position.
It had echoes of his best form, more than eight years ago, when after being named Player of the Tournament in Netherlands’ triumph at the 2007 Under-21 European Championships he earned a glamour move to the Bernabeu.
“I think you will still see more things of me because I’ve still got it,” said Drenthe.
“The moment that I decide to stop playing football, I’ll be honest with myself that I don’t have it anymore. Still, I see it in training and in games that I have it so I have to prove it and that’s what people expect of me.
“I think I have played some good matches. I helped my team defensively and tried not to make many mistakes. I had a good game (against Al Wahda) and played some good passes and I was involved in the first goal. The most important thing is the club and we have to win games, that’s the most important thing.
“I’ve been here and it’s been really stressful at times, trying to be fit and dealing with knocks. I had to train two times a day to make the muscles stronger so I’m really disappointed but now I want to help my team.”
Fellow summer arrivals Joaquin Larrivey and Mark Milligan bagged the goals for Bani Yas in their draw against the capital club and the ex-Netherlands international has been impressed by their qualities.
“Larrivey and Milligan are more than professional,” he added. “I can learn a lot from them whether it’s in games or training and that is very inspiring for everyone in the team.”
It’s been a topsy-turvy first-half of the season for Bani Yas. Luis Garcia’s men enjoyed a strong start and were unbeaten after six games.
But they could only pick up five points from a possible 21, including a 1-0 victory over AFC Champions League finalists Al Ahli.
The Abu Dhabi outfit sit seventh in the league going into 2016, 17 points behind leaders Al Ain.
While it will be a big ask to mount a title challenge, Drenthe feels fourth place is possible providing his team-mates stay focused.
“We started the season really well and we cannot forget that if we are not focused 100 per cent, the possibility is we can lose,” he said.
“If we focus 100 per cent we can beat any team in this league and I think we have proved that already.
“I think if we can change our mind and be more focused on some specific things, we can learn from everybody.
“This is only half the season gone and we have to see where we are at the end of the season. Every player in this team has the capability to show what they can do.
“Fourth place is possible but football is a crazy world. Sometimes you play better than the opponent but can’t win the game because that little bit of luck isn’t with you. I don’t want to put too much pressure on anyone in this team but I think we can do it.”