One of the best stories in Middle Eastern football this season so far is coming from the United Arab Emirates. Imagine a club that hasn’t won any silverware since 2003, that their last championship title was back in 1996, and that suddenly in 2018, is experiencing a flourishing season in a league that belonged solely to three clubs for many years.
Meet Sharjah FC, the Emirati club that is counted as the new 'Black Horse' of the Arabian Gulf League. Under the guidance of Coach Abdul Aziz Al-Anberi, the club from Sharjah City is currently on top of the table, with a few great results against the country's top clubs.
So far, they've beaten reigning champions Al-Ain, Shabab Al-Ahly, Al-Nasr and Al-Dhafra, and were leading the table without a single loss until the last match-day. Now, after 11 games, they are tied with both Al-Jazira and Al-Ain.
Usually, it takes around ten matchdays to realize whether a team is capable of running in the top of the league, but so far Sharjah are certainly proving they can. They are doing it thanks to striker Wellinton Soares that has scored 11 goals in 10 matches, Ryan Mendes, the Cape Verdean midfielder who scored 4 goals and star Igor Coronado that provided 7 goals and multiple assists. Another important character is the Uzbek midfielder, Otabek Shukurov, who stabilized the team's lineup with his solid presence in the middle.
In a strategical move, they practically decided to focus on the league only, in order to add the prestigious silverware to their cabin. Sharjah was eliminated in the League Cup after five losses – when they played their 2nd roster. This way, the important players remained fresh for the league games, allowing them to play open and attractive football. Earlier this season, they won 6-3 against Al-Nasr, with Alvaro Negredo and Yohan Cabaye in the lineup, a surprising result by all counts.
Despite the excitement, coach Al-Anberi kept his modest attitude. "Winning by such a margin doesn’t mean we don’t have our problems,” Coach Al Anberi reflected back then. “We need to work on staying focused during the entire 90 minutes and not letting in any goals", he added in the press conference.
Will coach Al-Anberi and his players go all the way in the Gulf? It is still early, and with the Asian Cup on the horizon, this season at the Emirates will be as turbulent as it gets. One thing is for sure – no one (except for maybe Al-Anberi and the Sharjah FC officials) has expected such a positive & competitive season in Sharjah. Can they beat the eternal clubs of the country in the race for the title? If they do, it will add much needed spice in the Arabian Gulf League.