This year’s UAE Pro-League showcases expectation and pressure that hasn’t been seen since England’s World Cup campaign – and we all know how that turned out.
The giants of UAE football, Al Ahli, are looking to rebuild on and off the pitch following last seasons bitterly disappointing seventh placed finish. Helping them do this are two legends of the game; David O’Leary and Fabio Cannavaro.
O’Leary, the former Arsenal defender, has reached the European Champions League semi-finals with Leeds United before the clubs’ downfall. Since leaving Aston Villa in 2006, O’Leary has had a prolonged break from management, but sees the task of guiding Al Ahli to the UAE Championship as the ideal resurrection of his managerial career.
Along with O’Leary’s appointment, the Dubai club announced World Cup winning captain, Fabio Cannavaro, as their new skipper. Cannavaro recently retired from international football following his country’s disastrous defence of the trophy in South Africa and is looking to add another title to his vast catalogue of trophies.
Five games into the season and Al Ahli sit a respectable fifth place in the table, but are performing below expectations. Despite being unbeaten at home, their away form is dire. They’ve only experienced one win away from home this term and these performances are underlined by a 4-0 thrashing by 9th placed, Al Nasr.
The much sought after title has been shared between four different clubs in as many years. Al-Shabab, Al Ahli and Al-Wasl have all lifted the trophy whilst most recently Al-Wahda celebrated their fourth triumph in their history. Looking to regain their title, Al-Wahda have remarkably played with three different managers in their opening eight games this season.
After eight games, Al Jazira head the table and remain unbeaten. They have never won the league title since it’s formation in 1974, but are always a team to watch, after winning three cup titles in three years, including the Etisalat Cup in 2009-2010.
The UAE Pro-League hosts twelve teams, with the top three sides qualifying for the prestigious AFC Champions League. The bottom two clubs are relegated and these spots are currently occupied by last year’s promoted sides, Dubai Club and Al Ittihad Kalba. Much like the English Premier League, each team plays each other twice; once home and once away.
Many famous faces have graced the UAE Pro-League in it’s 37 year history, many playing at the latter stages of their careers. George Weah appeared for Al Jazira from 2001 to 2003. He only made 8 appearances in his two year spell but scored an impressive 13 goals, averaging 1.6 goals per game.
Carlos Villanueva, who most may remember for his year at Blackburn Rovers, currently represents Al Shabab at club level. The midfielder scored twice in fifteen appearances in the Premier League. When signing for Al Shabab, the midfielder controversially said how he wished he stayed at Blackburn.
Famous managers to grace the league include Joe Kinnear and Alain Perrin. Kinnear began his managerial career at Al Sharjah whilst Alain Perrin had a one year spell in charge of Al-Ain before joining Portsmouth.
The next round of games sees Al Wahda host Al Ahli. Pressure will be on both teams as both try to climb the table in a bid to deliver a much-expected league title. Elsewhere, Al Jazira play away to Al Shabab and second-placed Bani Yas travel to Sharjah.