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Arabian Gulf League 2015/16: Season Preview

The Arabian Gulf League. The enigma in the Middle East. Signing the best of players in recent memory – Valdivia, Farfan, Thiago Neves, Denilson and more – yet the league will be fully encrypted thus meaning that you have to pay to watch the league. Yes, not the English Premier League, but the Arabian Gulf League. Moving on, if you are able to follow the league (this is why Ahdaaf are here, to help you do so under any circumstances!) there is going to be a hot title battle, no doubt. We’re having a very hard time choosing the top 4 and the relegation spots, a very hard time!

League Format

14 teams

Continental Competition Qualification – How it works

League PositionContinental Competition QualificationCompetition StageCompetition Edition
WinnersAsian Champions League (ACL) / Club World CupGroup Stage / Undecided2018
Runner-UpACLGroup Stage2018
3rd PlaceACLPlay-Off2018
President's Cup WinnersACLGroup Stage2018

Relegation to UAE First Division:

League PositionPassage of RelegationDivision Relegated To
13thAutomatic RelegationUAE First Division
14thAutomatic RelegationUAE First Division

President’s Cup Format:

  • 12 teams from First Division + Lower Division into 4 groups (FA Cup)
  • Top of each group qualifies to the semi-final
  • Both finalists enter Presidents Cup
  • FA Cup Winner + FA Cup Runner-Up + 14 Arabian Gulf League teams
  • 16 teams left
  • Straight Knockout

Squad Rules and Regulations:

A squad consisting of:

  • 3 Foreigners of any nationality
  • 1 Foreigner of Asian nationality



Manager: Cosmin Olaroiu

Last Position: 7th

Predicted Position: 2nd

Key Signing: Rodrigo Lima – finally, the goalscoring arrives – or so we hope. Cosmin may have a small dilemma as Ahmed Khalil was on hot form but the quality brought in with Lima will definitely strengthen the Red Knights for the battle of Asia.

Key Player: Everton Ribeiro – he was absolutely fantastic last season, and with the brilliant link-up play provided between himself and Lima, Al-Ahli will no doubt be supplemented well on the attacking front.

Continental Competition: Asian Champions League – Quarter-Final vs. Naft Tehran

Summary: Al-Ahli finished poorly in the league but they have arguably the best manager in the Middle East, who is nicknamed “Alex Ferguson of the Balkans”. There is no doubt that his experience can help Al-Ahli towards the AFC Champions League semi-finals, meanwhile the race for the league is wide open and we certainly believe that they can mount a serious title challenge.



Manager: Zlatko Dalic

Last Position: 1st

Predicted Position: 3rd

Key Signing: Emmanuel Emenike – Despite scoring a brace against Al-Nasr in the Super Cup, he has the insurmountable task of replacing Asamoah Gyan.

Key Player: Lee Myung Joo – yes, not Omar Abdulrahman. Lee is going to be the go-to guy when the opposition blocks all passages of goalscoring. Trustworthy, intelligent and a rocket of a long shot, he will definitely be a vital player for Al-Ain once again.

Summary: Al-Ain, Al-Ain, Al-Ain. Champions, yes, but two hard losses to Dubai-based clubs Al-Ahli and Al-Nasr in the Asian Champions League and President’s Cup respectively saw questions being asked. Can Zlatko Dalic take his final chance at Asian glory with both hands?



Manager: Laurent Banide

Last Position: 11th

Predicted Position: 10th

Key Signing: Hamad Al-Hammadi – an upgrade on a defence that conceded less than Al-Jazira and Al-Shabab last season, Al-Hamamdi returns to his boyhood club to get some game time on a 3-year deal.

Key Player: Makhete Diop – Al-Dhafra need goals, and the man who scored 38.4% of their goals last season has reportedly extended his contract.

Summary: Al-Dhafra did well to diffuse Al-Jazira’s title challenge and gain points from Al-Ain, but now Banide has the template to succeed in cup competitions and move forward in the league. Their 11th place finish stemmed largely from the amount of draws they were involved in. Only had a GD of -2!



Manager: Abel Braga

Last Position: 2nd

Predicted Position: 1st

Key Signing: Fares Juma – there is no doubt in my mind that Juma will play a big part in Al-Jazira’s fight for the title. A very leaky defence (46 goals conceded) at Mohammed Bin Zayed stadium last season saw the title go to Al-Ain. Fares Juma, coming from Al-Ain, can deputise at left back and centre back.

Key Player: Khamis Esmail – Al-Jazira are absolutely stacked on the attacking front. It’s this man who will always be there for Al-Jazira under all the pressure. An unheralded player with a fierce shot, it’s clear to see how highly rated he is at Al-Jazira.

Summary: Al-Jazira have been longing for the second title, so the board have went and brought in the man who helped them win their first ever title – Abel Braga. This will hopefully lead to ground breaking attendance rates, over the 36,000 we saw in Abu Dhabi years ago.



Manager: Ivan Jovanovic

Last Position: 5th

Predicted Position: 5th

Key Signing: Jonathan Pitroipa – a player who knows the league and played consistently here, it’s clear that Al-Nasr have bagged a very intelligent player with this transfer. He will provide the spark that Pablo Hernandez failed to bring last season under high hopes. His performance against Al-Ain in the AG Super Cup was an exemplar of his talent.

Key Player: Ahmed Shambieh – Their 23 year old goalkeeper – no doubt looking to play a part in the future of the UAE National team – was instrumental last season. In our opinion he was unfairly chosen as 2nd best Goalkeeper of the Season, where he formed a good argument for first place itself. Helping Al-Nasr to penalty shoot-out wins in the Cup were definitely his best moments in an Al-Nasr shirt.

Summary: It’s tough to project where the Blues will finish, however we believe they can make a good fight for the Asian Champions League places as they are just not there yet with the quality of the top 3. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to work together as soon as possible.



Manager: Tarek Al-Ashry

Last Position: 2nd (First Division, Promoted)

Predicted Position: 12th

Key Signing: Amro Al-Soulaya – The Egyptian is a encouraging player, brought in for a $1.2m fee and set to make waves at the Khaled Bin Mohammad Stadium. Is he enough to keep them up?

Key Player: Ahmed Saif Mohammad Al-Zerri Al-Shamsi – A left back, whose promising ability may see former Tractor Sazi full back Celio Dos Santos forced to play at centre back, that is held at heart by Al-Shaab fans. Only 24, he has made 44 appearances for the “Commandos” over the last couple of seasons.

Summary: A bright young manager who comes off the back of a successful season with ENPPI in Egypt will help them avoid relegation, but it remains to be seen whether they are able to contest with Al-Dhafra and Fujairah. What will keep them up is their big club mentality and huge fan base.



Manager: Caio Junior

Last Position: 3rd

Predicted Position: 4th

Key Signing: Jo – Al-Shabab missed only one aspect last season, a fine goalscoring striker. Yes, we know Jo isn’t the answer, however Caio Junior is a man who is in love with the thought of team spirit and teamwork.

Key Player: Mohammad Ayedh – Called up to the national team and part of a very strong defence, Ayedh is the man to help Al-Shabab succeed again. As they always say, defence wins you championships… Al-Shabab did so in winning the Gulf Champions League.

Summary: It was Al-Ain, Al-Jazira and Al-Ahli (and Al-Nasr) who made the huge signings however we believe that Al-Shabab have strengthened in depth with the right local players to fight for the Asian Champions League spots and possibly another cup. A very underrated side.



Manager: Javier Aguirre

Last Position: 4th

Predicted Position: 6th

Key Signing: Jorge Valdivia – Valdivia is absolute quality and knows the league very well after his time at Al-Ain. An upgrade on Damian Diaz, who was brilliant himself.

Key Player: Sebastian Tagliablue – Hot and cold most of the time, Tagliablue is a goalscorer. Known as “Tigali” in the UAE, his link-up with Valdivia is one to look out for.

Summary: A name in their manager, two well-known foreign signings yet we have Al-Wahda at 6th. Well, the league is very competitive and positions 4-6 are certainly not set in stone with the fluctuating performances of teams in the league often visible during the hot periods of the year. Al-Wahda, though, still lack defensively and it will be vital to see how they replace Adel Hermach who was underwhelming last season.



Manager: Gabriel Calderon

Last Position: 7th

Predicted Position: 8th

Key Signing: Edgar – Much of the goalscoring load will need to be shared between Edgar and Caio, which is why we believe Edgar is a key signing. He will be tasked to link play and win the ball in the air, as he will partner Caio in an almost certain and rigid 4-2-2-2.

Key Player: Fabio de Lima – His stay at Al-Wasl will now be permanent, and the league’s own Neymar has been nothing short of fantastic last season. Fast, technically brilliant and a dangerous scorer; he is one of the league’s players to watch.

Summary: Having Al-Wasl finish two places back than they were last season seems like going back to square one, however we believe that this finish is a step forward. Not able to compete with the signings of the bigger teams, the only set back this season could be that Baniyas are predicted to finish ahead of them. Otherwise, another forward looking season under Gabriel Calderon with foreigners in the mould of Portuguese-speaking Hugo Viana, Caio, Lima and Edgar. Chemistry will be fantastic, the loss of goalkeeper Yousif Al-Zaabi will hurt.



Manager: Luis Garcia

Last Position: 8th

Predicted Position: 7th

Key Signing: Ishak Belfodil – Denis Stracqualursi only scored 7 goals last season therefore we expect good signs from former Inter Milan and promising Algerian Ishak Belfodil. Can he be the star for Baniyas?

Key Player: Amer Abdulrahman – It’s hard to disagree, as the calm and composed defensive (and loyal) midfielder will definitely gain plaudits for his reliable performances once again. He is one of the players who deserves to play outside of the UAE.

Summary: They did make a host of smart signings yet the quality of Baniyas is far from the top 4. Yet Baniyas are a team to never count out no matter the circumstances, as they finished 4th in their first season back from the First Division in 2009!



Manager: Theo Bucker

Last Position: 1st (First Division Champions)

Predicted Position: 14th

Key Signing: Boris Kabi – Bringing in a relatively experienced players in the lower to mid-table of the AGL is key, and Kabi will bring that alongside his goalscoring prowess. However, we don’t feel it will be enough to keep them up.

Key Player: Bilal Najjarine – A new signing yet he returns to the Dibba team he was at a few years ago. His experience in the AGL and work with Theo Bucker is key to helping Dibba in avoiding drubbings, which was visible in the President’s Cup against Al-Ain.

Summary: It was honestly very tough to choose the two relegation spots, and despite the tactful reinforcements from Dibba it will take something big for them to avoid relegation. Unlike other countries where relegation is certain for teams, Dibba have the chance to make their mark on their league and not become an up and down team like Kalba.



Manager: Paulo Comelli

Last Position: 10th

Predicted Position: 11th

Key Signing: Brett Holman – A huge coup by the Ras Al-Khaimah-based team, bringing in an experienced winner in the nation to bolster their attacking options for next season. Clearly, this is a statement of intent.

Key Player: Essam Erraki – Now entering his twilight years, Erraki is still a vital card for the “Eagles” as his natural fitness allows him to play a large amount of games, 24 last season in the AGL. Will he be the enforcer needed to dismiss a relegation challenge, is the question.

Summary: Yes, they have improved with the likes of Brett Holman and the return of their beloved Walid Anber on loan – however other teams have strengthened on a higher level and it will be interesting to see how Emirates form a challenge to solidify themselves as consistent AGL participants.



Manager: Ivan Hasek

Last Position: 9th

Predicted Position: 9th

Key Signing: Patrick Friday Eze – One aspect he will improve Fujairah in is undoubtedly goals, on a better and consistent level than the ageing Boubacar Sanogo. The latter had the knack of scoring important goals, however at 22 Eze will bring in fresh and ambitious runs that will liven up Fujairah’s attack even more than it is with Hassan Maatouk.

Key Player: Hassan Maatouk – Nimble running, speed and goalscoring. Hassan Maatouk is a very smart player, deservedly named in the “Best 10 Arabs to ever play in the AGL” alongside the likes of Yasser Al-Qahtani. His runs from right attacking midfield, right in between the channels, is a huge frustration for most teams while his knowledge of both divisions helps him out on a larger scale.

Summary: Nowhere near the top 8 just yet, but the best of the rest. Signings in the mould of Christophe Mandanne and Friday Eze will definitely steer them far away from safety. Madjid Bougherra in defence is a huge plus too despite the departure of his fellow national Karim Ziani.



Manager: Paulo Bonamigo

Last Position: 12th

Predicted Position: 13th

Key Signing: Renato Caja – Wanderley was mesmeric last season although only when supported well, and Rodrigo “Rodriguinho” Costa was offloaded at the end of last season due to not being an adequate fit for the “trequartista” role. It is up to Renato Caja to provide the attacking verve.

Key Player: Wanderley – Their only source of goals and a presence up front, he is a huge problem for AGL defenders. It remains to be seen how and where he will receive support from. 

Summary: A very tough choice for relegation, but we believe – a beautiful narrative it would be – that a Sharjah Derby between Al-Shaab and Sharjah will decide the final spot for the season. Sharjah (and their fans) were absolutely lackadaisical last season, with only the AG Cup Final (a 4-1 drubbing to Al-Nasr) their shining moment of the season.

About Hamoudi

The man behind the idea of Based in Dubai, Hamoudi will bring you an unprecedented level of coverage of the Alfa Lebanese League in English as well as the best of the UAE’s Arabian Gulf League. With dreams of working in the coaching industry in the near future, don’t be surprised by the amount of tactical analysis that he works on to bring in a modern day feel to the very scarce analysis on Middle Eastern Football. (PS: Beware of his rants about the ignominious status of football in his native country Lebanon…).

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