Al-Ahli Dubai: An aspiring Asian Club
Have you heard about Al-Ahli Club Dubai? You might have heard about them a few weeks back when the club signed former Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro from Juventus and also brought Irishman David O’Leary out of retirement to become the clubs new coach. They are the UAE’s most successful club side, now aspire to be amongst the best in Asia and have a long journey ahead of them.
Al-Ahli Club is a Dubai-based United Arab Emirates professional league side. Al Ahli, which means ‘national’ in Arabic, was only formed in 1970 as three local teams merged and since then they have won five UAE League titles, seven UAE President Cups and the UAE Super Cup in 2009.
Now, they not only brought in Cannavaro and O’Leary, but also Brazilian André Luciano da Silva, better known as Pinga, from Abu Dhabi’s Al-Wahda Club and Aristide Bancé from Burkina Faso for a record 5 Million Euros from German Bundesliga side FSV Mainz 05. This shows that the clubs intentions are clear to build a quality side to challenge for the domestic title.
Not only on the pitch the club has gone through a transition, but more importantly there have been changes in the clubs administration. The club is owned by Dubai’s crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum and he has brought in people to transform the club. The administration is headed by Abdullah Saeed Al Naboodah, heir of a local merchant family; while Ahmad Khalifa Hammad has been made the clubs Executive CEO.
The club has an own 18,000 seater stadium in Dubai’s Deira district, but like most clubs in the region they are unable to fill their stadium with spectators. And even with signing such stars as Batistuta and Effenberg in Qatar a few years ago, none have been able to fill their stadiums. Now they want to try and change that fact by signing commercial partnerships with banks and consumer companies, but if they can tap into the mainly south Asian immigrant communities will have to be seen. My advice would have always been to sign an Indian player under the Asian quota rule and get him to play. That would surely bring a few thousand Indians to the ground, who are more football interested then popular Arab believe. But the club in its first step will focus on expatriate Arabs and western families to come and support the club. For this to work they have looked far west to the US and the MLS concepts of events around matches. One will have to see if it works in Dubai.
But for the moment the club is dependent on the crown prince and his deep pockets besides getting governments like all their rivals in the UAE league. The money which comes in through sponsorship and gate receipt are minimal, but all the clubs will want to grow them in the near future.