In Ricardo Gomes, Sharjah have a more than capable replacement for last year’s leading scorer Welliton, especially if his hat-trick against Ajman in the Arabian Gulf Cup last week is anything to go by.
Few things capture the imagination quite like a fairytale championship, and Sharjah FC’s historic title last season falls perfectly into that category. Like Leicester City in 2015/16, very few, if any, gave them a chance of success before the season started, but momentum is a wonderful thing and once the title was a realistic proposition there was nothing that could stop them. But sometimes, strangely enough, reaching the summit is the easy part. Staying there is the real challenge.
And that is the challenge that now faces Sharjah after last season’s historic and remarkable Arabian Gulf League title, their first since 1996. Having achieved what many thought was unachievable, they face a battle to remain at the top, having gone from the hunter to the hunted.
Leading the chasing pack is Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, last season’s runner-up, who looked to have found their mojo again after a turbulent 12-months following the merger of Al Ahli, Al Shabab and Dubai Club into one super club.
But looking to go one better than last season, the Dubai club has made perhaps the savviest move of the transfer window with the signing of Al Wahda striker Leonardo who along with his partner up front, Ahmed Khalil -- who is back with the club -- perhaps comprise the league’s most potent strike force.
And with an attack-minded coach in Argentine Rodolfo Arruabarrena, arguably the most important signing the club has made in the last 12 months, goals are guaranteed at the Rashid Stadium.
While the loss of leading scorer Welliton would ordinarily be seen as a hammer blow, in Cape Verde international Ricardo Gomes they have a more than capable replacement, especially if his hat-trick against Ajman in the Arabian Gulf Cup last week is anything to go by.
With his national team teammate Ryan Mendes already at the club he should have few problems settling in to Abdulaziz Al Anbari’s side. The 41-year-old Emirati proved a revelation last season, remarkably becoming the first Emirati coach to win the AGL, and if he can again have Sharjah at the pointy end of the table his star will only rise further.
With so many questions to be answered, the Arabian Gulf Super Cup this weekend provides the perfect entrée to the season. Should Shabab Al Ahli Dubai prevail, with a lethal strike force and one of the league’s best coaches, they’ll rightly be seen as the team to beat this season.
Should it be Sharjah lifting the silverware, the underdogs will believe last year’s success wasn’t just a once off and know they can once again challenge the traditional big boys of Emirati football.” Speaking on the upcoming challenge, Sharjah striker Ricardo Gomes described his team’s clash against Shabab Al Ahli at the Arabian Gulf Super Cup on Saturday as a crucial one, insisting that the reigning Arabian Gulf League champions need to be well prepared to hit to form on time.
“I don’t know Shabab Al Ahli well, but I know they are a good team and we are leaning all about them in training this week,” said the Cape Verdean international.
Gomes, who joined Sharjah from Serbian side Partizan over the summer, was delighted with his hat-trick against Ajman in the Arabian Gulf Cup last week, describing it as a good motivation to keep scoring in the Super Cup.
Meanwhile, ahead of Saturday’s tie against Sharjah, Shabab Al Ahli midfielder Davide Mariani is excited about the prospect of winning his first silverware in UAE football.
The Swiss playmaker insisted his team’s preparations for the game are progressing well, adding that he expects a huge show of support from the Shabab Al Ahli faithfuls to propel them into the title.
Mariani, a recent arrival at Rashid Stadium from Bulgarian side Levski Sofia, hailed the atmosphere at his new side as motivating for the players to perform. Speaking of their Saturday’s opposition, Mariani said: “I learnt that Sharjah are a strong side with a solid squad that has won the league. We have to be at our best and give our everything to overcome them.”