Sparky’s Column

Super Cup Weekend

The season curtain-raiser is upon us, and what a game to whet the appetite of fans for the eight months ahead. Al Ahli and Al Ain are two of the traditional power houses of UAE football and it's fitting they were both the most successful over the last 12 months. Al Ain, nestled in a city of 250,000 people, has arguably the biggest fan base in the country and have the title firmly in their grasp after finishing top of the table for the last two seasons.  Dubai's Al Ahli are traditionally big spenders and added more silverware with the President's Cup last season after the Etisalat Cup in 2012. The stage is set with the two biggest clubs going head to head to contest the Arabian Gulf Super Cup, which would always be a big game, but this year it has added spice.

Cosmin Olariou, coach of the Champions decided to make the switch mid-summer to Al Ahli. A few feathers were ruffled and eyebrows raised, but it was a major coup for the Red Knights after losing the highly regarded Quique Flores. I have spoken to back room staff from both clubs and the consensus is that Cosmin is not a coach drawn by money; rather he is motivated by winning. He is still young in coaching terms and highly ambitious, and he obviously saw something in Al Ahli that matched his aims and the transition was swift.

Omar Abdulrahman, the UAE's shining star, should return a new man this season. He has spent large proportion of his summer working with a conditioning coach.  It shows a level of dedication in the player that most fans don't see or hear about. It means that apart from the visible signs such as a 6 pack or a few more muscles, the player has the determination to reach the very top of his profession. It is a huge season for Omar; the noises out of Europe have not yet amounted to a serious bid but you get the feeling something will happen sooner rather than later. The fans, for now, will breath a sigh of relief because the longer he stays, the more we get to enjoy watching someone so special and unique play in the UAE.

Al Ain have as many adjustments to cope with as Al Ahli, with the main one being new coach Jorge Fossati. I don't think there is any more difficult a role in football than stepping into the shoes of a successful coach. If he wins the next two titles he has only matched what Coach Cosmin achieved, so the job in many ways could be a thankless task. He has to balance between changing the setup and keeping what has obviously worked in the past. The biggest statement of his intent this season will be winning the Arabian Gulf Super Cup, the psychological significance for Al Ain far outweighs the value of the silverware.

The Arabian Gulf Super Cup Kicks off at 7:25pm on Friday 30th August at Al Jazira Club's Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. It's a great stadium to host what should be a great start to the season. If you haven't sampled UAE football live before, then this is the perfect time to do it.