Twelve 'international' players makes Fanja Club the team to beat.
Hicham Jadrane couldn't ask for more. The coach of the Fanja Club sits atop a treasure trove. He has 12 highly talented, homegrown players, who have represented Oman in various international competitions, at his disposal for the new season. The star-studded line-up alone makes the defending domestic league champions and eight-time His Majesty's Cup winners a leading contender to clinch the inaugural edition of the Omantel Professional League (OPL).
Being the leading local club in the Sultanate, Fanja always utilised the services of Omani footballers, rather than hiring foreign players. This time was no different either.
The officials launched the talent scout a couple of months ago. They sent feelers to Oman players, who served clubs in GCC countries, and retained most of the players who helped the club win domestic league last season.
The ploy worked wonders once again. Versatile midfielder Ahmed Mubarak didn't extend his contract with Saudi Club Al Ettifaq, prolific scorer Abdul Aziz Al Maqbali snapped his association with another Saudi side Al Taawon, midfielder Ahmed Hadid ended his deal with Qatar Club Al Jaish, Saad Suhail moved from domestic giants Dhofar, Raed Ibrahim switched from Al Orouba and goalkeeper Mazin Al Kasbi left Seeb only to join their national team counterparts at Fanja, which thus became a local club with national flavour.
The star-studded side, however, had a forgettable debut in the OPL, managing a draw against Al Shabab. But the 'Yellow Brigade' made a strong comeback in to the league last Friday, registering an authoritative 4-2 win over Al Ettihad Club (Salalah) at the Seeb Stadium. They played like true champions throughout. They enjoyed better of exchanges, thanks to their short, one-touch passes. Strikers switched flanks and kept rivals under constant pressure.
The win gave a huge relief for coach Jadrane as it came a week after the team's lacklustre draw against Al Shabab in the first round. "It was disappointing to kick-start the league with a draw. But my players made amends and helped us script a big win. All I can say is that we have entered the league now," he told Hi Weekly.
The Spaniard, in his second season with Fanja, said the win was just a beginning and fans could expect a lot from his talented bunch of players. "I am so happy to get the services of 12 Oman national players. All of them are highly talented and I have full faith in their abilities. They work hard to get results. All of them are hungry for victories. So I hope they will bring the inaugural OPL silverware to Fanja."
The presence of plenty of national stars naturally puts pressure on Jadrane while selecting the first eleven for any game. "Of course, it is difficult to pick the first eleven before any game," he admitted.
However, injuries to some of his key players worry Jadrane ahead of crucial matches in the coming weeks. It is learnt that Abdul Aziz Maqbali, who was injured recently, needs at least six weeks to return to the action. Medios Ahmed Mubarak and Ahmed Hadid and defender Nadhir Al Maskari have not regained fitness, prompting the team management to look out for other possible options.
That is why they decided to hire Ely Cisse, who served the club during the last two seasons, as the lone foreign recruit. So the Senegal player is expected to fill in Maqbali's shoes easily. "We decided to hire Cisse as Abdul Aziz Maqbali will take at least six weeks to come back from injury. He is an experienced striker. Having donned Fanja colours for the last two seasons, he knows the team very well. His arrival will boost our morale," Jadrane asserted.
The other major worry for Jadrane is the error-prone defence which conceded three goals in two matches.
In fact, the absence of talented defender Nadhir Al Maskary, who is regaining fitness, has hit the team hard, and the coach believes the team will rectify the mistakes in upcoming m