Despite having recently celebrated his 36th birthday and enduring a torrid 2018/19 campaign, both individually and collectively, Ismail Ahmed admits he has “tremendous enthusiasm” to help Al Ain win more trophies.
The veteran UAE centre-back regressed badly last season as the years appeared to catch up with both him and his Boss centre-back partner Mohanad Salem. Individual errors became prevalent in their performances – particularly Ahmed, whose lowest ebb came when he suffered the ignominy of being sent off for elbowing an opponent in the UAE’s Asian Cup semi-final defeat in January.
At club level there was the high of reaching December’s FIFA Club World Cup final on home soil, where the Boss were beaten by Spanish giants Real Madrid 4-1 in the final in Abu Dhabi.
But the domestic campaign ended in failure as Al Ain slumped to a fourth-placed finish. They failed to emerge from the AFC Champions League group stage for the first time since 2013 and have to negotiate a play-off to qualify for next year’s tournament – fail and it would be the first time in eight years they won’t have qualified for the continental tournament.
But Ahmed – who has lifted two Arabian Gulf League titles, two President’s Cups, two UAE Super Cups and one Arabian Gulf Cup, not to mention been to one Champions League final and one semi-final in his 11 years with the club – is confident going forward.
“Let me thank the Al Ain fans for their continued support of me and strong support for the team in all circumstances,” said the man who turned 36 earlier this month.
“I am proud to be part of this Al Ain family, I have sincere love for this great club.
“I lived happy moments and contributed to the championships and numerous achievements and I have also lived as well with my team in difficult circumstances during the 11 years I spent at the club.
“None of these moments can fall out of my memory. I have a tremendous enthusiasm to contribute with my team to win more tournaments.”
The Morocco-born defender, who arrived in the Garden City in 2008, was curiously offered a lengthy new deal in September last year, extending his contract until 2024, although Ahmed revealed he has taking initial steps into coaching by obtaining his AFC coaches’ C licence.
He added: “I entered on the advice of close friends. I have great ambitions and am committed to the journey in the world of football even after my retirement as a player.”
Despite their escapades at the Club World Cup, 2018/19 was a disruptive season for Al Ain and AGL sides, with the league starting in the baking August heat in order to accommodate both that and the Asian Cup.
The Boss went into a tailspin after their Los Blancos meeting, winning just five of their ensuing 21 in all competitions. Former Villarreal and Real Betis manager Juan Carlos Garrido was unable to arrest a slide that began with talisman Omar Abdulrahman’s defection to Al Hilal last summer, with coach Zoran Mamic soon following suit. Al Ain’s season seemed doomed from the start.
“Certainly the success and the circumstances that accompanied the team and the lack of technical stability and injury factor was one of the reasons that made it difficult for us to appear at a good level locally and continental,” said Ahmed.
“But we defended the name of the club honorably in the Club World Cup. Criticism does not infuriate me at all because I see perspective so I am working to modify my status and improve my level, especially for the fans.
“Always the defensive line are responsible for mistakes, and there are those who are critical of us. But I wish to reconcile in the upcoming season and hope we can achieve the aspirations of the club and the happiness of the fans.”
Despite their woes last term, new boss Ivan Leko has got off to a bright start this summer with a number of eye-catching moves in the transfer market.
Algerian winger Abderrahmane Meziane and highly-rated Togo forward Kodjo Fo-Doh have joined Dh25-million rated forward Caio Canedo, impressively acquired from fellow AGL side Al Wasl. Domestically, talented midfielder Mohamed Jamal has been snapped up from Al Jazira while Mohammed Helal joins from Ajman.
The club are currently on a pre-season camp in Austria where Ahmed says he has been encouraged by the Boss’ bright start to the summer.
“Al Ain, in every season, seeks to provide strong levels of competition for all tournaments, whatever the circumstances experienced by the team the previous season.
“Today we are in an excellent position with the players signing new contracts and the deals concluded to strengthen the team. Certainly the team cannot stand on one player or two or even five alone.”
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