Major upheaval signals exciting new chapter for Dubai football

With the start of the 2017-2018 Arabian Gulf League approaching, attention is focused on the league’s newest club, Shabab Al Ahli-Dubai. Edward Payne reports

For the first time since it turned professional in 2009, only 12 football clubs will participate in the Arabian Gulf League this season following the merger of three Dubai-based teams to form a new super-club: Shabab Al Ahli-Dubai.

The merger of Al-Ahli, Dubai CSC and Al-Shabab is intended to boost the financial performance of the three clubs as well as increase attendances in the emirate.

The new entity, owned by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, controls the assets and properties of the trio of dissolved clubs. Shabab Al Ahli-Dubai will play its matches at the home of Al-Ahli at the Al-Rashid Stadium, while former Al-Ahli manager Cosmin Olăroiu will manage the side.

The headquarters will be based where Al Ahli used to operate, and the former club’s training ground will also undergo renovation to become the new facility for Shabab Al Ahli-Dubai.

Despite the upheaval at the Al-Rashid Stadium since the end of May, Olăroiu has added to his squad with forward Ahmed Al Attas joining from Al-Jazira on loan. Moldovan forward Luvannor has also switched to the new club after previously playing for Al-Shabab.

However, their neighbours Al-Wasl will also be providing stiff competition for the league title after finishing as runners-up last season to Al-Jazira. Last season’s near-miss means Al-Wasl have failed to win the league since 2007, a run that owner Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum will be hoping to end soon.

The recently appointed manager of Al-Wasl, Rodolfo Arruabarrena, has been busy strengthening his squad during the summer break. Manchester City midfielder Anthony Careces arrived on loan, with an option to make the 24-year-old’s move permanent at the end of the season. The additions of Salem Juma Awad and Sultan Al Suwaidi from Al-Ain and Al-Jazira will add solidity to a defence that conceded more goals than any member of the top three last season.

After a disappointing 2016-17 season, Al-Nasr will be hoping to win their first league title since 1986. In order to end their 21-year title drought, the club has appointed former Italian manager Cesare Prandelli, adding to a long list of well-known names to have managed the club. Prandelli replaced Dan Petrescu, who could only lead Al-Nasr to a sixth-placed finish and defeat in the President’s Cup final last season.

Prandelli hasn’t wasted in any time in reshaping his squad ahead of a potential title challenge, with right-sided midfielder Marcelo Cirino joining on loan from Atletico Paranaense while goalkeeper Mohamed Yousef has joined from Sharjah FC.

However, the off-season has seen the departure of Brazilian forward Nilmar, who had his contract cancelled to allow the 33-year-old to move back to his native Brazil, where he now plays for Santos.

With the creation of Shabab Al Ahli-Dubai and their newfound resources, the appointment of Prandelli at Al-Nasr and the defensive additions made at Al-Wasl, the ingredients are there for silverware to make its way to Dubai at the end of the season.