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2016/17 ARABIAN GULF LEAGUE PREVIEW

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 First Division

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

President’s Cup format

  • 14 AGL sides + 2 First Division sides that qualified from preliminary round play in Round of 16
  • followed by quarters, semis and final

Arabian Gulf Cup format

  • 14 AGL teams split between two groups
  • Top two of each group qualify for semi-final
  • Semi-final winners qualify for the final

Squad rules and regulations

  • Playing XI limited to four foreign players (one Asian and three others of any nationality)

 

Al-Ahli

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Manager: Cosmin Olaroiu (Romania)

2015/16 Position: 1st

2016/17 Predicted Position: 1st

Key Signing: Asamoah Gyan – the departure of Moussa Sow means the departure of goals, but the league’s best ever striker has joined Al-Ahli on loan and he will partner the clinical Rodrigo Lima. A 4-4-2 with Ribeiro and Al-Hammadi roaming behind them is an interesting prospect.

Key Player: Majed Hassan – the man who keeps play ticking, the man who protects his defence and aids the attack at the same time. Unfortunately for him he was hit by a heavy injury at the end of last season but he’s expected to come back into the side and excel as usual. He’s toppled Amer Abdulrahman as the best defensive midfielder in the league and this may prove another top season for him.

Why should I follow them? With Al-Ahli Dubai you are looking at probably the best side in West Asia (the irony being that they are not even in the 2016 Asian Champions League). Cosmin has proven himself to be one of the best managers in Asian football and with Asian Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil now rooted to the bench because of Asamoah Gyan, it shows you just how strong this side is.

Stadium: Rashid Stadium, Dubai (Capacity: 8,844)


Al-Ain

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Manager: Zlatko Dalic (Croatia)

2015/16 Position: 2nd

2016/17 Predicted Position: 3rd

Key Signing: Caio Lucas Fernandes – Caio is coming to a cursed position. Ever since the unappreciated Jires Kembo-Ekoko left to Al-Nasr, Al-Ain have been unstable with their wingers even after the arrival of Danillo Asprilla. It’s all because of Ryan Babel, who is probably the worst player to ever play for Al-Ain after the disastrous stint he’s had at the club. Caio is expected to hit the ground running as soon as possible at all costs, or he will be thrown out like Kembo-Ekoko and Babel were.

Key Player: Omar Abdulrahman – Whenever Al-Ain are out of options they turn to this guy. Hell, even when they have options it is Omar “Amoory” Abdulrahman who dictates play and creates chances. He’s even added goals to his game via free-kicks. No matter where Al-Ain are, watching this guy is a must. He is aesthetically pleasing, but also tactically important to the Al-Ain side. 

Why should I follow them? They have Omar Abdulrahman. In theory, it is that simple. However, they also do have the best fan base in the UAE by numbers and alongside that a wonderful stadium to boast.

Stadium: Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al-Ain (Capacity: 22,717)


Al-Dhafra

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Manager: Mohammad Qwayyed (Syria)

2015/16 Position: 8th

2016/17 Predicted Position: 7th

Key Signing: Omar Ali – The central defender will provide adequate cover for Abdulrahman Yousaf and Issam El-Adoua, providing great experience for the Knights of the West as they look to have a memorable season in the league and in the cups. 

Key Player: Omar Khribin – The Syrian forward set the league alight with 2 goals in 2 games against Al-Ain and Al-Ahli in his debut week, before scoring more across the course of the season to help Al-Dhafra avoid relegation and finish in a respective 8th position under fellow Syrian coach Mohammad Qwayyed. Khribin signed a contract extension until 2020, fending off interest from big clubs in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Why should I follow them? They are simply an interesting team to watch and are very ambitious after a wonderful start to 2016. A cup – whether it is in the form of an Arabian Gulf or President’s Cup – is a must for the club who are looking to cement themselves as a top 7 team in the country and aim for consistent development.

Stadium: Hamdan bin Zayed Stadium, Madinat Zayed (Capacity: 5,000)


Al-Jazira

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Manager: Henk Ten Cate (Netherlands)

2015/16 Position: 7th

2016/17 Predicted Position: 6th

Key Signing: Mbark Boussoufa – After a weird season for Thiago Neves in Al-Jazira’s colours the skillful Mbark Boussoufa was signed. He is now expected to fill the void left by Argentinian starlet Manuel Lanzini after his departure to West Ham, but time will tell if Boussoufa is able to forge a consistent run of form across the course of the season. 

Key Player: Ali Mabkhout – The man who helped Al-Jazira to the President’s Cup and improving on their disastrous start to the season. The local forward broke records last season by breaking the 20-goal mark in the league and after it was confirmed that he won’t be leaving to Al-Ain, the Al-Jazira squad looks very strong on paper to do something this season. If there is anybody to save Al-Jazira from a defensive shambles yet again it’s only Ali Mabkhout.

Why should I follow them? Al-Jazira have a great attacking formation once again. Ali Mabkhout, Mbark Boussoufa and possibly Mirko Vucinic in the mix too. However, their defence is a shambles – at least you can expect high scoring games then – and a top 4 finish is still some distance away with Abu Dhabi rivals Al-Wahda still in contention.

Stadium: Mohammad bin Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi (Capacity: 42,000)


Al-Nasr

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Manager: Ivan Jovanovic (Serbia)

2015/16 Position: 4th

2016/17 Predicted Position: 2nd

Key Signing: Wanderley – this may not even be the key signing come start of the season as Wanderley is currently banned for 60 days for allegedly having a fake Indonesian passport. Originally Brazilian yet now holding an allegedly fake Indonesian passport because of the needs of the Asian foreign quota – Abdelaziz Barrada (Morocco), Jires Kembo-Ekoko (France) and Jonathan Pitroipa (Burkina Faso) all hold non-Asian passports – Wanderley’s inclusion has put Al-Nasr’s Asian Champions League status on the brink. He did score a brace for Al-Nasr against El-Jaish on his debut in the Asian Champions League quarter-final, but the 3-0 score was overturned after he was found to have held a fake Indonesian passport.

Key Player: Amir Mubarak – an underrated player, but he protects the defence and helps the team escape from the first third when subject to high pressure. He’s not earned a spot in the national team but he’s doing very well for Al-Nasr, and the enforcer seems like he will continue his performances after a great start against El-Jaish.

Why should I follow them? Despite the group of players they possess they are not an entertaining side but with Wanderley things are expected to change. They’re also the only team outside of Al-Ahli and Al-Ain with a real shot at the title. 

Stadium: Al-Maktoum Stadium, Dubai (Capacity: 10,750)


Al-Shabab

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Manager: Fred Rutten (Netherlands)

2015/16 Position: 5th

2016/17 Predicted Position: 9th 

Key Signing: Tomas de Vincenti – the Argentinian playmaker started his Al-Shabab career off with a bang after a scoring a Gerrard-like goal against Ittihad Kalba in the Arabian Gulf Cup. He has to fill the void left by the departing Carlos Villanueva – who stayed at the club for 7 years.

Key Player: Henrique Luvannor – he’s still one of the better wingers in the league and is oh so clinical for Al-Shabab on his day, if they have any chance at going for a top 4 spot it’s got to be when Luvannor strikes up a good run of form.

Why should I follow them? Fred Rutten has come with an unorthodox approach to coaching an Arabian Gulf League team and many are expecting him to get sacked soon. Despite that they have a good batch of young players that will help the team over the course of the season, but fighting for top 4 with a weaker squad is out of the question – for now.

Stadium: Maktoum bin Rashid Al-Maktoum


Al-Wahda

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Manager: Javier Aguirre (Al-Wahda)

2015/16 Position: 3rd

2016/17 Predicted Position: 4th

Key Signing: Balazs Dszudzsak – luckily for Al-Wahda fans, the player’s name in Arabic is as simple as saying “jujack”. Otherwise, they really have signed a big player in this guy. He’ll be taking a spot on either wing – likely to be the right – and provide the goalscoring threat that Al-Wahda needed from the wingers after a modest return of 3 goals from youngster Mohammad Al-Akberi.

Key Player: Sebastian Tagliablue – he is the best striker in the league in terms of goals but the challenge of a fit Rodrigo Lima, Asamoah Gyan and Ali Mabkhout is not your average fight for the golden boot. His lanky figure and odd style of play will be something to watch over the course of the season.

Why should I follow them? Jorge Valdivia, Balazs Dszudzsak and the legendary Emirati forward Ismael Matar supporting the current best striker in the league. Honestly, what more could you ask for?

Stadium: Al-Nahyan Stadium, Abu Dhabi (Capacity: 11,538)


Al-Wasl

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Manager: Rodolfo Arruabarena (Argentina)

2015/16 Position: 6th

2016/17 Predicted Position: 8th 

Key Signing: Helder Barbosa – although he has looked shaky in his first few games, Helder Barbosa is expected to bring back the memories of Ederson, after the nightmares of Rogerinho and Edgar have finally left the club. His input from the left wing and combination with the front 3 of Ronaldo, Lima and Caio will be exciting.

Key Player: Fabio de Lima – Al-Wasl’s source of almost everything from build-up play to goals. When Lima is off form, so are Al-Wasl. They rely on him too much which is the reason for their downfall in the last few years.

Why should I follow them? They arguably have the best fan base in the country (haven’t achieved top 4 status in 8 years but their attendance rates are in the top 4) and their front four is filled with flair, excitement and pure Brazilian-ness.

Stadium: Zabeel Stadium, Dubai (Capacity: 8439)


Baniyas

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Manager: Pablo Repetto (Uruguay)

2015/16 Position: 9th

2016/17 Predicted Position: 11th

Key Signing: Felipe Bastos – after the departure of Fawaz Awana and Amer Abdulrahman, Baniyas needed a presence in midfield and they brought the powerhouse in Felipe Bastos on loan from Al-Ain. 

Key Player: Mark Milligan – Baniyas still have Mark Milligan after everything which is a good sign, but the players around him have yet to impress and he will need to do a magnificent job over the course of the season to ensure Baniyas don’t fall into the relegation battle.

Why should I follow them? They have Copa Libertadores finalist Pablo Repetto as their manager, who may strike up an interesting attacking Baniyas side.

Stadium: Baniyas Stadium, Abu Dhabi (Capacity: 9,047)


Dibba

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Manager: Paulo Sergio (Portugal)

2015/16 Position: 10th 

2016/17 Predicted Position: 13th

Key Signing: Nicandro Breeveld – the winger brought from Steaua Bucuresti will be replacing the electric Bakare Kone who was one of the main factors in Dibba’s great escape last season. The standards set for him are high. 

Key Player: No one! – that’s right, every single key Dibba player from last season left the club. Central midfielder Faisal Al-Khaddeim, his brother Tareq Al-Khaddeim, young midfielder Nasser Abdulhadi, the four foreigners that helped keep them up, defenders Qassim and Al-Maeeni to fellow relegation battling clubs, hotshot Sanad Ali and main ‘keeper Humaid Abdulla. The whole starting 11 gone with the wind! 

Why should I follow them? Engineering the Great Escape! 

Stadium: Fujairah Stadium, Fujairah (Capacity: 10,945)


Emirates

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Manager: Theo Bucker (Germany)

2015/16 Position: 12th

2016/17 Predicted Position: 10th

Key Signing: Theo Bucker – the only team in the league that have acquired a manager more important than all their players, Emirates have been very lucky to gain the services of the German-Lebanese manager who will probably die fighting before getting relegated with the team. His high temper is sometimes detrimental to the team but he instills a spirit rarely found with other managers in the region. 

Key Player: Alhasan Saleh – the young left back is technically adept and very good with helping in the build-up for a side that rely mostly on long balls to the attackers. 

Why should I follow them? Theo Bucker managing a side that can be deadly on the counter attack and also donning the tag of relegation battlers is always fun to watch. Dibba and Lebanon were two of his most successful stints and those sides included those tags.

Stadium: Emirates Stadium, Ras Al-Khaimah (Capacity: 5,127)


Hatta

Manager: Waleed Obaid (UAE)

2015/16 Position: 1st (First Division) 

2016/17 Predicted Position: 12th

Key Signing: Mihai Radut – Hatta’s build-up play has been massively improved since the arrival of Mihai in the defensive midfield role. His technical capabilities will definitely benefit the side which have come from a divison which is very poor in that aspect. Radut has already had an impact on Hatta’s play in the AG Cup.

Key Player: Khalid Al-Balooshi – the central defender is key to shoring up the Hatta back line in what will surely be a tough season. He’s looked more confident on the ball with Radut dropping nearby.

Why should I follow them? This is their first ever season in the top flight during the professional era.

Stadium: Hatta Stadium, Hatta (Capacity: 5,000)


Kalba

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Manager: Fabio Viviano (Italy)

2015/16 Position: 2nd (First Division) 

2016/17 Predicted Position: 14th

Key Signing: Mohammad Al-Khaddeim – the former Ajman player will surely provide Kalba the security needed in central midfield. 

Key Player: Mihai Costea – the striker’s contract renewal gives Kalba hope up front after a dire period in front of goal lately. Fabio Viviano has complained about the lack of a goalscorer despite Costea’s presence in the squad, so he will have to produce another big season for Kalba.

Why should I follow them? Everytime they’ve come up to the top flight during the professional era they have gone straight down. Will they finally get rid of that curse?

Stadium: Ittihad Kalba Stadium, Kalba (Capacity: 8,500)


Sharjah

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Manager: Giorgos Donis (Greece) 

2015/16 position: 11th

2016/17 predicted position: 5th. 

Key signing: Gelmin Rivas – The 27 years old Venezuelan striker scored 16 goals for Ittihad in the Saudi League last season, leading them to a Champions League place. An injury ended his Ittihad career but he looks to have recovered and will look to prove Sharjah right in gambling on him. His goals will be vital to fire The King into a much better finish that last season’s lowly 11th place.

Key Player: Jamal Maarouf – Giorgos Donis plays a narrow 4-4-2 diamond formation at Sharjah, which means width will be at dearth. And while Polish playmaker Adrian Mierzejewski will pull the strings from the tip of the diamond, Maarouf will partner Rivas upfront and will look to drift wide to pull opposition defenders off their areas. The 24 years old Emirati is one to watch this season. Expect him to contribute in both scoring and creating chances for his teammates.

Why should I follow them? Sharjah FC are arguably the most exciting prospect of the season. Following a relegation scare last season, the board has injected some much needed cash into the squad, bringing in some top talent from the Saudi League and an experienced manager in former Al-Hilal boss Giorgos Donis to lead the pack. Also, did you know that Donis was the first ever Greek player to play in the English Premier League back in 1996-97 with Blackurn Rovers? Now you do!

Stadium: Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah (Capacity: 11,073)

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