Having escaped relegation in 2010/11, Al Ain ‘s Executive Committee organised a complete overhaul of their football administration, technical staff and foreign players.
The new administration, headed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Khalid, appointed Cosmin Olaroiu as coach, just two days after the season ended, giving the Romanian plenty of time to prepare for the new campaign.
He was followed by the signings of Mirel Radoi, the former Romania international midfielder, Ignacio Scocco, the Argentine midfielder, and Yasser Al Qahtani, the Saudi Arabia forward.
Al Ain’s biggest coup was the deal to bring in Asamoah Gyan on a one-year loan from the English Premier League club Sunderland.
The Ghana international has proved his worth by topping the Pro League scoring chart with 17 goals from 15 games.
Beating the champions
A 3-1 away triumph over Al Jazira, the 2011 champions, put Al Ain four points clear of the holders after eight games.
Jazira had been beaten 3-2 by Al Shabab in the previous match and the successive defeats hurt them. Gyan scored twice, the first a gift when Lucas Neill, the Australian defender, saw his back pass to the goalkeeper Khalid Essa intercepted by the striker.
Juma Abdulla equalised but Fawzi Fayez, the Al Ain defender, put the visitors ahead on the hour and Gyan sealed the game with an injury-time goal.
Al Nasr held Jazira to a 2-2 draw in the next game and Al Ain never looked back.
Coping with Gyan’s absence
Olaroiu was aware from the start of the season he would have to be without Gyan when the striker played for Ghana in the African Cup of Nations from January 21 to February 12.
It was Al Ain’s worst period of the season – they suffered their first league defeat, to Nasr, and were held to a 1-1 draw by Shabab.
Olaroiu also faced selection problems because of injuries to key players, including Al Qahtani and Scocco.
Yet Al Ain managed to come out of their slump with victories over Ajman (4-1) and Al Wahda (1-0) to maintain their lead at the top of the table, helped by the fact Jazira also lost twice during that time.
Failure of rivals
Despite going undefeated in the first half of the season, winning nine of the 11 games, Al Ain were still only four points ahead of Jazira.
The defeat to Nasr gave the chasing pack the chance to close in but Jazira failed to take advantage as they went down to Al Ahli 2-1, and a second defeat in three games.
Shabab then moved into second position, still nine behind the leaders, but whatever slim hopes the Dubai club had of catching Al Ain were sunk when Jazira beat them 2-0 to regain second place.
Nasr also spent time in the top three, but they drew too many games.
Source: The National