Mohamed Ahmed admits he is enjoying his newfound role as a central defender for Al Ain and insists he will carry on in that position for as long as he is required.
The UAE international, 28, has featured at the heart of the Boss’ defence as opposed to his usual right-back role in the early stages of the Arabian Gulf League season.
And, having endured a nightmarish 2016/17 campaign ravaged by injury, Ahmed is just happy to be back playing regularly.
“Being injured was difficult but I am just thankful I have been able to return to the team and be a core member again,” said Ahmed, the former Al Shabab defender.
“They were difficult conditions like many other players have faced during periods of injury, but personally I always looked forward to getting back to competition and to once again show my best.”
The Dubai-born defender has won 50 caps for the Whites since his 2011 debut, most of which have been played while at Al Ain, whom he joined in 2012.
Ahmed returned to the Boss first team in a 3-2 home win against Al Wahda in April – a full eight months after he had last featured for the Garden City side following a knee injury suffered in August against Lokomotiv Tashkent in the 2016 AFC Champions League.
Now fully on the mend, Ahmed has featured at centre-back for Zoran Mamic’s side in the first two games of the AGL season – a 2-2 draw with Al Wasl on opening night and a 3-0 triumph over Hatta last week – in the absence of international colleagues Ismail Ahmed and Muhanad Salem.
Salem will return for the visit of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai tomorrow but Ahmed is still working his way back to full fitness, meaning Ahmed is likely to once again feature at centre-back, with Salem.
“Any assignments that the coach gives me enhances my understanding of the game and whether I play in the center or side of defence, I just hope to contribute to a good team performance,” said Ahmed.
“I am more committed to my defensive duties now, unlike at right-back when I linked in with offensive tasks and personally I look forward to providing the best performance for success for me, the team and the club’s loyal fans.”
Tomorrow’s opponents will provide some sense of nostaligia for Ahmed. His former side Shabab merged with fellow AGL giants Al Ahli in the summer, as well as Dubai CSC, to form the new Shabab Al Ahli.
But rather than focus on the demise of his former side, Ahmed is focused only on Al Ain’s future.
He said: “I do not think about it from the integration perspective as much as we focus on going out against an opponent, looking to win.”
Shabab Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu returns to the city where he enjoyed so much success, leading the Boss to back-to-back AGL titles in 2011/12 and 2012/13 before defecting to the Red Knights.
And Ahmed said there will be no sympathy for his former manager once the whistle blows.
“When we enter any football match I do not think about the faces or certain names as much as we focus on showing the fighting spirit and achieving a strong result,” he added.
Ayman El Ramady saw enough from his players in defeat to champions Al Jazira to suggest that Ajman can secure Arabian Gulf League survival on their return to the top-flight following a three-year hiatus.
The Orange Brigade were bright and busy at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, stifling Henk ten Cate’s hosts but also creating problems for a side whose rampant form last season and summer transfer business suggests they will once again be the team to beat in the Emirates in 2017/18.
They looked anything but champions against El Ramady’s newly-promoted team though and were lucky to escape with all three points after Brazilian winger Romarinho struck 10 minutes from time to spare their blushes.
Ex-Al Dhafra and Al Shaab coach El Ramady was encouraged by his team’s performance and says they will need to maintain this level in order to stay in the league.
“I’m happy for the team performance and I think we deserved one point,” said Egyptian El Ramady.
“And we need to maintain these performances. We are trying to maximise the positives. Overall we lost but hopefully we will recover and build up the positivity to encourage our players.”
Adeilson, snapped up from Brazilian Serie C side Tombense in the summer, impressed, as did journeyman forward Bakary Kone, formerly of Ittihad Kalba and Dibba Al Fujairah.
El Ramady also added Uzbekistan’s former Al Shabab midfielder Azizbek Haydarov in the summer, although he says their hopes of survival are linked to completing their foreign quota with a fourth signing required.
“It’s possible to survive in this league. But this depends on a few conditions,” added El Ramady.
“We need to complete our foreign quota. We have good foreign players but we need to sign a fourth one and get the best. We need to maximise our quota as they will provide 60 per cent of the strength of the team.
“Overall the local players are doing a good job but we have only two foreigners and Jazira have the best four in the league, so I think it was a reasonable performance.
“There are many reasons for only playing two foreigners and why we only have three. We are looking for another one. Unfortunately, the one player we wanted signed for someone in Saudi Arabia so the market is difficult right now. There are limitations on finding a suitable player.”
“Haydarov, he has been away with Uzbekistan playing in World Cup qualifiers, so we did not want to play him in the in the beginning so we gave him the second half.
“Overall I am happy with the performance and we will look to get better results in the coming matches.”
Emirati defender Rashed Malallah also missed the game due to a family emergency and El Ramady hopes to have him back for the visit of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai next Saturday.
El Ramady said: “We missed a very important player for us, Rashed Malallah, he missed the game at the last minute because his brother and family were in an accident, so I wish they recover soon.”
Henk ten Cate said he was “ashamed” of Al Jazira’s performance as the champions labuored to a 2-1 home victory against promoted Ajman on the opening night of the Arabian Gulf League.
There was not much to be proud about in the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s performance, with summer signing Romarinho netting on his debut 10 minutes from time to rescue three points his side barely deserved.
They were fortunate to gain all three after substitute Waleed Khalid had cancelled out Ali Mabkhout’s opener – and Ten Cate labeled it the “worst performance” since he took over in December 2015.
“It was horrible, awful, it was so bad. I was in agony on the bench seeing everything going wrong,” said an unhappy Dutchman, who said he was as much to blame as his players.
“The only good thing about the game was the three points. It was the worst performance since I’ve been here. To be honest I was ashamed of the performance.
“The opposition were very organised and of course they’re going to defend. We were lucky to win. We won’t be so lucky in the future.”
On-field temperatures peaked at 38 degrees at kick-off with humidity at 65 per cent as water breaks were schedule after 30-minute intervals – but Ten Cate failed to blame the weather, instead believing his players need to rediscover the hunger that brought them a first AGL title in six years last term.
He added: “I think it was the best wake-up call ever. We should realise when we don’t work hard and when we don’t challenge for the ball in midfield we are a very normal side.
“We are only a good side when everyone gives 100 per cent and I don’t feel the players gave 100 per cent today. We will lose games like this in the future if we don’t play without focus and concentration.”
They lit up the league on their way to the title last year, but Jazira failed to shine bright as they snuck past the promoted Orange Brigade.
Prolific Mabkhout hit a stunning 33 league goals that helped steer Jazira to a first title in six seasons in 2016/17, and the UAE forward opened his account for the new term after just 16 minutes to seemingly put his side on the road for a routine opening day victory.
Yet it was anything but straightforward for Ten Cate’s men against Ayman Elramady’s well-drilled Brigade who deservedly levelled when Khalid punished an atrocious Fares Juma mistake by sliding through Ali Khaseif’s legs six minutes after coming on.
Summer signing from now defunct Qatar Stars League side El Jaish, Romarinho – who had teed Mabkhout up for the opener – spared the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s blushes 10 minutes from time as he thrashed home a loose ball to earn the champions victory.
In stifling September heat it is harsh to judge last season’s runaway champions after one game, but they will need to adapt quickly if they are to defend the crown they lifted with an 11-point gap to runners-up Al Wasl.
They began brightly enough, Mbark Boussoufa’s free-kick almost headed into his own net by Brazilian attacker Adeilson, while captain Mohammad Yaqoob had to be alert to then cut out the Moroccan’s cross.
It wasn’t long before the deadlock was broken and its breaker even less of a surprise.
Romarinho doggedly chased down a long punt from defence and beat Hassan Zahran to it, before driving into the box and selflessly squaring to Mabkhout who bundled in.
Adeilson served notice of Ajman’s intent with a tame shot straight at Ali Khaseif. At the other end a bewildering run from brilliant youngster Khalfan Mubarak yielded a stinging shot that Ali Mohamed pawed behind, while intervention was also needed to stop Mabkhout connecting with Romarinho’s cute cut-back.
Ajman had the ball in the net on the stroke of half-time when Adeilson tucked in after Bakary Kone’s effort was stopped superbly by Khaseif – but Kone was rightly flagged for offside.
Jazira’s struggle to add to their tally instilled hope in the visitors with Adeilson letting fly from distance as the second half got underway, but Khaseif was behind it.
Summer arrival from Wasl, Hassan Zahran, then somehow got a foot to toe the ball behind to prevent Mabkhout a certain second – although the referee awarded a goal-kick.
Ajman had the ball in the net a second time just after the hour – and this time it counted – substitute Khalid finishing superbly to punish atrocious defending from Fares Juma.
Former Al Ain centre-back Juma tried a lazy flick and then played Khalid onside as he was slipped through on goal, the winger sliding the ball through Khaseif’s legs to deservedly level the scores.
Ten Cate threw former Al Ahli striker Ahmed Khalil on for his debut in search of a winner and Romarinho spared Juma and Jazira’s blushes when he blasted home a loose ball which deflected into his path from Mabkhout’s shot after Ajman failed to clear a free-kick.