Nothing is guaranteed in football.
The cycle of success and – relative – failure is unrelenting, even for the most richly resourced sides. Al Hilal’s rollercoaster 2020/21 has exemplified this in Saudi Arabia, while Manchester City’s current British record 15-match winning run was preceded by a period in which Pep Guardiola received repeat questioning.
There are means, however, to mitigate this. Enter Al Jazira.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi are yet to sit top this term. Indeed, they’ve only claimed two Arabian Gulf League titles in their entire 46-year existence.
But structural changes at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium-outfit act as an exemplar to all clubs throughout the Middle East.
Identify a strategy for “sustainable sporting success” and unavoidable spells of boom and bust can be tempered.
This requires a thoughtful methodology for how a thread can be run through from the academy to the first team, plus an exacting analysis of how foreign recruits are identified.
Such a blueprint is vital in European competitions. Barcelona’s exalted La Masia stands at the summit.
But its importance should be amplified further in AFC leagues where transfer business is more-heavily restricted.
It is an uphill struggle to claim AGL supremacy without a foundation of exceptional Emirati players. Four open-age foreigners and up to six Under-21 resident players split between the first team and U-21s are permitted, with a mix of six in any match-day squad, yet they can only do so much.
With this fact in mind, competition for the best domestic players is intense – and expensive. It is more prudent to take a long-term view and produce as many as you can in-house.
Recent results have been enormously encouraging for Jazira.
The 23 top-flight goals struck by their Emiratis – a collection of purchases and home-grown – in 2020/21 is 10 more than nearest contemporaries Al Wasl. UAE boss Bert van Marwijk’s current 25-man training camp is dominated by a seven-strong Jazira contingent, two more than Al Wahda’s five, with only injury to utility defender Mohammed Al Attas preventing it from being eight.
This cohort is so strong that they finished the first half of the campaign in second spot, despite being the only competitors to hire three senior foreigners. A situation remedied late in the winter transfer market by Curacao winger Brandley Kuwas’ loan move from Al Nasr.
The agent-led approach utilised by many, but not all, sides is diametrically opposed to that found at the MBZ. Also teams who empower whichever head coach is in charge at the time, meaning squad demands are at the whim of a revolving door of individuals who may possess vastly different needs and tactical frameworks.
It is, of course, not the first time such a forward-thinking structure has been attempted in the region. Far from it.
Jazira, themselves, endured an unfulfilled stint with former Brescia, West Ham United and Watford technical director Gianluca Nani at the helm between December 2015 and August 2016.
Neither are they the only side currently wedded to this. Little more than an hour’s car journey away is Al Ain and their sporting director David Platt, among others.
The 2018/19 Saudi Professional League champions Al Nassr have, also, tried to corner the domestic market.
Rarely has this outlook been crystalized in such a transparent manner.
They believe, and justifiably so judged by recent results, that the master plan sporting director Mads Davidsen was entrusted to formulate since his June hiring by a forward-thinking board of directors will enrich the club competitively and financially.
It cements a process initiated in 2015, from which an unbroken series of similarly minded Dutch managers have been encouraged to entrust home-grown players. Foreign buys are tailored to consistent wants.
The, eventual, succession from cultured Morocco centre midfielder Mbark Boussoufa to South Africa metronome Thulani Serero is just one example.
Prominent youngsters Abdullah Ramadan, Khalifa Al Hammadi and Al Attas were given their debuts before Davidsen’s procurement. Yet the Dane is in place to ensure prospects such as Ahmed Fawzi and Hazza Subait – who boast 20 goals between them in this term’s U-21 AGL – are given the best chance of following them.
There are many others underneath this pair, too.
Jazira’s last trophy was the 2016/17 AGL, while they are absent from the AFC Champions League since 2018.
A course, though, has been set to become – in Davidsen’s words – “a top club in the UAE and a top club in Asia”, without incurring unaffordable costs. Others should think about how they can join them.
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