Shabab Al Ahli Dubai kick-start sea­son with vic­tory over Hatta

Goals from Mar­zouq, De Vin­cent and Diop lift new en­tity to 4-1 win

The National - News - - SPORT | FOOTBALL - JOHN MCAU­LEY

The venue is fa­mil­iar, but the ban­ners and the bunt­ing are not. Two gi­ant in­signia bear down from the main en­trance to the Rashid Sta­dium, each glar­ing red and green in yes­ter­day’s mid-af­ter­noon sun, each bear­ing the name of Dubai’s most re­cently es­tab­lished pro­fes­sional foot­ball club.

“Shabab Al Ahli Dubai” is em­bla­zoned across the arch­way, ex­tended from sim­ply “Al Ahli”, the re­sult of a merger in May when Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Rashid, Vice Pres­i­dent and Ruler of Dubai, or­dered that three clubs be­come one.

For all in­tents and pur­poses, Al Shabab and Dubai club have been dis­solved into Ahli, giv­ing the emi­rate a new foot­balling en­tity. From that, the club man­age­ment hope will emerge a fresh su­per­power in UAE foot­ball.

In­side the Rashid Sta­dium, fans mulled around the sta­dium be­fore their team’s kick off against Hatta, a match that opened Shabab Al Ahli Dubai’s 2017/18 Ara­bian Gulf League sea­son.

Thus, it was the be­gin­ning of a new era, too.

Not that ev­ery­one was in agree­ment. The ma­jor­ity of sup­port­ers were still sport­ing Ahli’s colours, most wear­ing last sea­son’s kit, a hark back to the club that had be­come one of the most suc­cess­ful in re­cent times.

Saeed Jas­sim, a Dubai res­i­dent, has been com­ing to the Rashid Sta­dium for match days since he was six, and he never re­ally con­tem­plated do­ing away with that tra­di­tion now. But 17 years on, it all felt a lit­tle strange.

“I don’t like it at the mo­ment,” Jas­sim said. “But it’s still our club, so still we come. That’s why my friends are all here, and that’s why we are wear­ing the Ahli t-shirt. “This is our home.” Ahmed Ab­dul­lah used to take in matches just down the road, at Shabab.

He is dis­ap­pointed that, for now, the Mak­toum bin Rashid Al Mak­toum Sta­dium will not host top-flight fix­tures.

How­ever, he sees the amal­ga­mated clubs as a chance to fi­nally cel­e­brate a league ti­tle – even if it will not quite mean as much.

“It is strange, but we must fo­cus on our new team,” Ab­dul­lah said. “We can be stronger. It is a new club, and a new chal­lenge.”

The chal­lenge is ob­vi­ous, and it is not con­fined solely to the pitch.

Shabab Al Ahli Dubai must build not only its brand, but ap­peal to a new fan base also.

Some mer­chan­dis­ing will help, al­though for the first round of the AGL, the club shop was spar­ely stocked, save for last sea­son’s Ahli, Shabab and Dubai jer­seys.

They were sell­ing for a knock­down price, at Dh35 a pop.

Like­wise, the stands were thinly pop­u­lated, but that prob­a­bly had much to do with the 5.35pm start and the in­cred­i­bly hu­mid con­di­tions.

For those who did brave the heat, and for who re­sist change, or at least rail against it, some com­fort could be found in the home dugout.

There, Ro­ma­nian tac­ti­cian Cos­min Olaroiu took up his usual po­si­tion, just as he has done for the pre­vi­ous three sea­sons with Ahli, a spell that in­cludes two AGL crowns.

Olaroiu has spo­ken these past few weeks of the dif­fi­culty of the sit­u­a­tion, of hav­ing to take the over­spill from Shabab and Dubai and sup­ple­ment an ad­mit­tedly al­ready well-stacked Ahli.

There have been de­lays in adding to the squad, most no­tably in the slots al­lo­cated for for­eign play­ers.

There has been fresh spec­u­la­tion, as well, that Olaroiu fea­tures highly on the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion’s short­list to fill the sud­den va­cancy with the UAE na­tional team.

Even so, even with all the un­cer­tainty and the up­heaval, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai ex­pects.

For what it is worth, a start­ing line-up that com­prised seven for­mer Ahli play­ers and four for­merly of Shabab dis­patched Hatta 4-1.

But they had to come from be­hind to do so.

Ahli’s Makhete Diop scored ei­ther side of Shabab’s Mo­hammed Mar­zouq.

To­mas De Vin­cent, Mar­zouq’s team­mate last sea­son, rounded off the night with a well-taken goal.

Af­ter a sum­mer of change, life at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai had be­gun just as they wanted.

Pawan Singh / The Na­tional

Makhete Diop, cen­tre, posted a dou­ble as Shabab Al Ahli Dubai even­tu­ally over­came Hatta in the newly formed team’s first Ara­bian Gulf League match

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