Dubai: Mohammad Ali Ayed has a couple of dreams kept on the back burner. The introvert but resilient Al Shabab central defender — who turned 26 earlier this month — wants to play for the UAE national team while also trying to win the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) crown for his club.
“The two are interlinked you see. I have this dream of playing for the national team, and at the same time I want to be around to win the league title for my club,” Ayed told Gulf News before a practice session with new Dutch coach Fred Rutten earlier this week.
“It’s a tough one to say which of the two would take precedence, but I would think that we need to win the league title at Al Shabab and automatically the second goal will be fulfilled,” he added.
Founded in 1958 as Al Shabab Al Arabi Club in the Al Mamzar area of Deira, the club has so far had an illustrious past that consists of seven league titles, the President’s Cup four times, the GCC Champions League on three occasions and the Etisalat Cup crown on one occasion.
However, despite being one of the most successful clubs in the UAE, Al Shabab has been struggling to hold on to their past achievements with their last league crown coming only at the end of the 2007-’08 season. “Seriously, it’s been a long time since we last won the league. But that only gives us an additional hunger to go for it this season,” Ayed conceded.
“I think we have the right balance in the side, and if we can all stay healthy and injury-free we can be counted among the title hopefuls this season,” he added.
The first step, in fact, has been taken as Al Shabab had been at the top of the AGL table with 12 points after four rounds of the AGL till before their Deira derby on Friday evening. Also known as ‘The Hawks,’ the team from Al Mamzar has been convincing in their title chase with convincing wins against Sharjah, Kalba and Bani Yas. Last week, they returned with full points from Ras Al Khaimah with a solitary-goal away win against Emirates Club.
“This has been one of the best starts that we’ve had in a season for a long time now. All we need to do now is to keep this momentum going and build on this start by getting as many points as we can to be seen among the more serious contenders for the league this season,” Ayed said.
Asked to delve on one aspect that would keep Al Shabab apart from the rest of the teams in the AGL, Ayed was quick: “We are convinced of certain things among ourselves, and one of these is that we are a team in the true sense of the word,” Ayed pointed.
One of the major changes affected this year was the induction of former FC Twente coach Rutten in place of Brazilian Caio Junior. In a short span, the 53-year-old former defender has managed to turn things around with just one loss — that too a last-gasp 2-3 loss in the Arabian Gulf Cup to neighbours Al Ahli — in the eight/nine games his club has played so far.
“The coach [Rutten] is good and he has done a great job so far, and we all hope to continue like this. As the season goes on, other teams will be scared of us as we deserve that sort of respect. We have proved we are among the best during the past three seasons,” Ayed asserted.
“We believe we have the right and true spirit of a team. We have had some great coaches in the past, and all of them have been successful only because they followed this conviction of playing as one solid team. We are blessed to have a great board of directors who realise they need to carry forward this philosophy of working for each other, both on and off the ground,” he added.
“As a team we have decided that no team should be able to come to our ground and go away with three points. Once this mentality sets in, we can achieve our goal of winning trophies and the second part of the plan will automatically fall in line for me.”
Name: Mohammad Ali Ayed
Date of Birth: October 13, 1990
Shirt No.: 3
Debut club: Al Ain from their youth academy