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Dubai Ruler Orders Merger of Three Top Division Clubs.

Dubai based Al Shabab club have announced a press conference to unveil their new manager for next season. Serbian Goran Tufegdzic is widely expected to be the man replacing his compatriot Miroslav Djukic on the dugout at Makt…ABORT ABORT ABORT!

Dubai ruler His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has issued a decree ordering the merger of three Dubai clubs; Al Shabab, Al Ahli and newly promoted Dubai Club. The three clubs took part in the Arabian Gulf League draw for the 2017/18 season last night and were well on track to kick-off their summer transfer business, suggesting they had no idea what was in store for them the very next morning and that the Pro League Committee, the organising entity for the UAE league were equally clueless. Al Shabab abruptly sent out an email calling-off the press conference.

Al Shabab press conference called-off and Goran Tufegdzic presumably left hanging following the breaking announcement

Al Shabab press conference called-off and Goran Tufegdzic presumably left hanging following the breaking announcement

What Happens Now?

The merger will be effective immediately and Khalifa Sulaiman, currently president of the interim committee overseeing the debt-ridden Al Ahli Club will be appointed as President of the committee tasked with overseeing the merger. All assets and liabilities of the three clubs will be transferred to the newly formed entity and an investment company run by prominent Dubai banker and administrator Hisham Al Qassim will control the new club’s commercial affairs.

The new club will be creatively named, “Shabab Al Ahli Club – Dubai” and according to an official statement by the Dubai Media Office, will be headed by The Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed Al Maktoum, the current Chairman of Al Ahli Club.

A provisional club logo and colours have been rolled out, utilising elements of the three clubs identities as well as the recently created “Dubai Font”. A proper re-branding of the club is expected to be carried out once the merger is completed.

Artist impression of the new club colours, combining the red of Al Ahli, green of Al Shabab and the gold of Dubai SC

Artist impression of the new club colours, combining the red of Al Ahli, green of Al Shabab and the gold of Dubai SC

The Club will be based at the current Dubai Club facilities in Al Awir suburb of Dubai, while the existing facilities of Al Ahli and Al Shabab in old Dubai will be invested for the club benefits.

One of the three clubs, Al Ahli, are still involved in the 2017 AFC Champions League and have progressed to the first knock-out stage where they face Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli. The club will play the two-legged clash under their existing set-up before selected players from the merged clubs are registered in their roster for the quarter-final during the summer AFC registration window, should the club make it to the next round.

No decision on whether the new clubs will automatically play in the top division has been made, but it is widely believed this will be the case. A decision will be made in due course about whether the 2017/18 Arabian Gulf League will start with 12 or 14 clubs, with a possible return to the top division for relegated duo Bani Yas and Kalba now beckoning. A play-off including Fujairah FC managed by a certain Diego Maradona could be on the cards as well. The UAE FA has welcomed the decision and called for an urgent meeting to discuss the organisational consequences of the change.
(Update; It has since been announced that the 2017/18 Arabian Gulf League season will feature 12 teams)

The New Club Logo featuring Dubai Font

The New Club Logo featuring Dubai Font

Why the Merger?

After Dubai Club’s promotion to the Arabian Gulf League by the end of the 2016/17 season, the city will have had five clubs in the top division of UAE football. Many followers of Emirati football have been adamant that even a city like Dubai, the beating heart of the UAE and the entire Middle East, cannot sustain hosting five top flight clubs. Globally, only London, a city of 10 million residents in the spiritual homeland of football could accommodate this many top division clubs and fill stadiums week-in, week-out. Dubai is home to no more than 3 million residents, less than 10% of whom are Emiratis, more than 60% of the population comes from the nations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines; four countries where football is not the most popular sport. All that makes it all the more difficult to fill one 10,000-seater stadium every week, let alone five.

 Just last week, one of the clubs involved in the merger, Al Shabab, recorded the lowest ever attendance in the history of Arabian Gulf League when a laughable total of 72 fans turned up for their final league match of the season. Granted, Al Shabab were guaranteed to finish eighth in the table regardless of their result against Al Wahda, who were also confirmed to finish fifth, but for just 72 individuals to be present at the 8,000-seater Maktoum bin Rashid Stadium, that was a clear warning sign of the state of affairs at the club.  Al Shabab are not alone, 2015 AFC Champions League finalists, Al Ahli, averaged just 2,900 fans at home this season, despite being the reigning league champions.

Al Shabab recently registered a record low 72 fans.

Al Shabab recently registered a record low 72 fans.

Another reason the triple merger should be lauded as an excellent move, is the dire financial state the biggest of these clubs, Al Ahli, have found themselves in. Funds wasted on flops such as Oussama Assaidi and Asamoah Gyan in addition to failure to recoup the $20M paid for Moussa Sow, means the club has racked unprecedented levels of debt. The issue is compounded by years of mismanagement at the club the extent of which may never be truly be revealed.

Dubai has often been an opinion-splitting place; Its almost obsessive love for being number one and standing out is often seen as snobby, but the emirate and its ruler move forward nonchalantly. Football remains one of those areas where Dubai is still lagging behind, but Sheikh Mohamed is determined to change that. Commenting on the merger, he said, “Our objective is to build a club that can compete regionally and globally”. A super club based in one of the world’s most attractive city for stars and celebrities should have no trouble attracting big names to the league, and with the right marketing strategy, the new club could build a new fan base, not just combining the fan bases of the three clubs, but also creating a sense of belonging amongst the large expat community in the emirate. One thing is for certain, the new “Shabab Al Ahli Club – Dubai” is set to transform the map of competition, not just in the Arabian Gulf League, but in the AFC Champions League as well.

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