Dubai: Ten km is all that prevents newly-promoted Ittihad Kalba from competing in the Omani league, where they would probably have had more joy over the course of 22 games. Indeed things haven't been great over the past few seasons for the previous UAE league one contenders.
Making their return to top flight football (UFL) for the first time in six years, Ittihad, which translates as Union in English, but is better known locally as The Knights or Al Forsan, have had a frustrating five seasons trying to claw their way back into the UFL since finishing 13th and getting relegated from the top tier in 2004/05.
Before this they had always lingered around the lower throws of the upper league. A penalty shoot-out play-off loss to Dubai Club the season after relegation ruled out a quick return to the UFL and then two consecutive third place finishes, followed by a duff fifth in the seasons to follow, meant Kalba was always just caught short of promotion.
However last year's league one championship winning season, where they bagged an impressive nine wins from 14 games with 30 goals, finally re-confirmed their status as being among the best 12 clubs in the country.
It was only their fifth trophy triumph ever, all of which have been league one championship wins since they were formed from a merger between Sharjah clubs in 1972. Worryingly for Kalba, a lot has changed since they've been away, most notably the phasing in of professionalism in the UFL, which is already into its third season since re-branding.
Now question marks revolve around the heads of those in charge at the club as to how they will survive this season, especially considering most of their players are part-time, torn between playing for the club and their work commitments with the Police or the Armed Forces.
Team manager Hassan Saeed, a former UAE international and club favourite, estimated that 30 per cent of the squad is pulled away to play for the Army, who have their own league as well as a team in the third division.
Some players even play two matches in a day just to appease both parties. In fact Jawaher Musabah, Ahmad Eisa and Sultan Saeed have all left the club since last season to pursue their army careers full-time, leaving the club with something of a void to fill this term.
Despite this the team is aiming for a mid-table finish. Only one foreign signing, Simon Feindouno remains under contract from last year, after Frenchmen Gregory Du Frenice and (topscorer with nine) Mishil La Rent went to pastures new.
In keeping with the club's Brazilian backroom staff, these departures have been replaced by two Brazilians, Carlos Eduardo Ferrari and Sidney Moraes Da Almeida Junior.
It is like a family to me, Feindouno says
Dubai: Kalba is an unusual place of residence for a 24-year-old expatriate. But being a good hour and a half away from the bright lights of Dubai doesn't seem to fluster French-Guinean Ittihad Kalba defensive midfielder Simon Feindouno.
Having lifted the UAE Division One title with Ittihad Kalba as champions last season and the Third Division title with French club FC Istres Ouest Provence the year before; Feindouno, who also used to play in France for Nice and Lens, now has an unquenched thirst for silverware.
But even though it's probably fair to say he won't make a hat-trick of titles by sticking around at newly-promoted Ittihad Kalba this season, he's still not willing to budge.
"I had many propositions from clubs over the summer but I prefer to stay in Kalba to confirm my quality," said the youngster, whose two elder brothers, Pascal and Benjamin, play in Qatar and France respectively.
"Kalba is like a family to me, I have come to know many people here and I don't want to leave, I want to see it through."
Known only as Simon to his coach and teammates, Feindouno, who netted three from 12 appearances last term added: "We are a better team than last year and I feel if we play as well as we did in our pre-season camp in Italy, where we won three out of four against lower league Italians clubs, we have a good chance of staying in the UFL."
The former Under-23 Guinean winger, who's also part of Guinea's extended national team squad, added: "It won't be difficult to stay in the UFL, it's similar to the first division, it's only the equivalent of the French second or third division.
"We have more confidence, different staff and more experience added to our squad."
Feindouno added of the UFL: "Technique is different and it will be more physical so we'll have to adjust. But I hope we finish inside the top 10, maybe even under eighth. I don't know where exactly, but we definitely won't be last, we have too much quality to finish last."
- Mishil La Rent
- Gregory Du Frenice (Emirate)
- Sulaiman Al Mughani (Sharjah)
- Nader Abdul Rahman (Sharjah)
- Majid Abdullah (Al Shaab)
- Abdullah Obaid (Al Khaleej)
- Jawaher Musabah (Army)
- Ahmad Eisa (Army)
- Sultan Saeed (Army)
- Yousuf Hamad (Jazira)
- Yassir Karam (Jazira)
- Salim Jasem (Diba Al Hasan)
- Ali Mualla (Al Khaleej)
- Qasim Ali (Al Nasr)
- Carlos Eduardo Ferrari (Bahia)
- Sidney M. Da Almeida Jr. (Santo Andre)
- UAE Division One Champions (previously known as Division Two) 1979/80, 1988/89, 1995/96, 1998/99, 2009/10
Three foreign players
- Carlos Eduardo Ferrari
- Sidney Moraes Da Almeida Junior
- Simon Feindouno
- Take Highway 99 heading for Oman through centre of Kalba,
- Turn right after three roundabouts.
- Capacity: 3,000