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A Record Fine Spices a UAE Rivalry

November 20th, 2013 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Arabian Gulf League, Dubai, Fifa, Football, Maradona, soccer, The National, UAE

The UAE has soccer “derbies”, in the English sense — rivalries between neighbors. Al Wahda and Al Jazira, for instance, located only a couple of miles apart, here in Abu Dhabi. Sharjah’s two teams, Al Shaab and Sharjah, have a strong rivalry, too.

But the country does not really have rivalries involving teams from different emirates.

Until now.

Al Ain and Al Ahli. It’s getting intense, and weird.

Al Ain, an inland city with more Emiratis than any city in the UAE (more than Dubai and Abu Dhabi), has won more championships than any team in the UAE — 11, including the past two.

They have been good for long stretches, and they almost always have been a little smug, many of their opponents would suggest, often referring to their 2003 Asian Champions League title, the only won by a UAE team — albeit before the tournament really got cranked up and, eventually, became a title traded among teams from the east end of Asia.

Al Ain’s recent league titles came under the guidance of Cosmin Olaroiu, a coach from Romania. And now the coach of Al Ahli. Which is where this gets interesting, if not bizarre.

Olaroiu today was fined 100,000 dirhams ($27,000) believed to be a UAE football record — for speaking ill of/mocking Al Ain during a press conference earlier this month.

The fine was levied by the Football Association’s disciplinary committee, which described Olaroiu’s words — apparently suggesting Al Ain is having some cash-flow issues — as “abuse”.

Dh100,000 is real money. Amazing money, for a local fine.

Al Wasl, another UAE club were fined for an unidentified infraction today, and they were dunned Dh6,000. Meanwhile, a coach gets hit with Dh100,000. And also a three-game ban from the touchline. (Almost forgot that.)

The coach and Al Ain have had bad feelings since the summer, when Al Ain thought they and Olaroiu had agreed on a contract that would have brought him back.

Instead, he signed with Al Ahli, perhaps the most glamorous club in Dubai (and, therefore, the country), and some think that the high-energy lifestyle and glamor of Dubai, which many footballers and coaches find attractive, is going to hurt Al Ain, perhaps the sleepiest major city in the country, in recruiting players and coaches.

(Though Asamoah Gyan, captain of Ghana’s World Cup-bound national team, plays for Al Ain, as does the best Emirati player, Omar Abdulrahman.)

The standings after six league games have exacerbated matters. Olaroiu’s old team has won all six games, and Al Ain is already eight points behind — ahead of the sides meeting Sunday in Dubai.

Al Ain has sued their ex-coach for breach of contract, and it has been reported that they are asking for 500,000 euros (about $650,000) in damages, and plan to take the matter to Fifa, if necessary.

Olaroiu said he never actually signed, and he made a jab towards Al Ain at that press conference, two weeks ago. In which he may have suggested Al Ain have money problems. (A question was asked in English; it was answered in Romanian, then translated into Arabic — but not into English, so the specifics of his comments have never really appeared in this language.)

As we have noted, words here carry enormous power, to the extent that the FA could had down that unprecedented fine.

Al Ain, the club, have a lot of clout in the UAE, given their history as well as their intimate connection to the country’s rulers, whose family history goes back to the city. (Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, the president of the UAE, was born in Al Ain and is said never to miss an Al Ain game, watching them alone in a room, where he is not disturbed.)

But Ahli’s top two executives are prominent Dubai royals, and their board chairman is a major figure in Dubai commerce, and some believe that the hefty fine by the FA will be significantly reduced.

And one more tasty tidbit: Al Ain is now coached by Quique Sanchez Flores, who was Al Ahli’s coach for at the end of the past two seasons, and he got them a league cup championship in 2012 and the President’s Cup title earlier this year. Then said he was done with Ahli, left, didn’t find a job, and ended up in Al Ain. So, they traded coaches.

(And they could hardly be different. Sanchez Flores is handsome and dashing, the epitome of Spanish cool; Olaroiu is pudgy and unfashionable, the epitome of eastern European un-chic.)

Anyway, it makes for interesting conversation a few days before they meet in the league for the first time this year. It begins to appear that Olaroiu, a prickly character who traded barbs with Diego Maradona when the latter was coach at Wasl, may be a pretty good coach.

And Al Ain seems to think that his departure was badly, perhaps illegally done.

This is a derby that has off-the-field elements to it, now, as well as the actual games — including the one coming on Sunday.


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