Even by Asian standards, Al Ain are a young football club, having been formed only in 1968. Yet despite their relatively short lifespan, the United Arab Emirates' giants, known formally as Al Ain Sports and Cultural Club, boast significant achievements at both domestic and continental level.
Located in the picturesque city of Al Ain, the club is the most successful in the history of the UAE domestic league, winning the national championship a record nine times. And since they took the inaugural AFC Champions League in 2003, Al Ain have moved right in among Asia's best. Join FIFA.com for a look at the past and present of an Asian club power.
Royal seal of approval
In football-mad UAE, royal support plays an important role in the game's development and that is no exception when it comes to Al Ain. Since its inception four decades ago, the club has received consistent care from the royal class, among whom the most notable is His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler and president of UAE, who is also the Honourary President of the club.
The footballing legacy of Al Ain has been well preserved and carried forward by the royal family, whose members have swelled the club's leading posts providing all levels of support when necessary. First came Sheikh Sultan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Deputy Prime Minister, who chaired the board of the club in the 1970s, during which time Al Ain captured their first league title in the season of 1976/77.
Following in his footsteps came Lieutenant General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chief of staff of the UAE Armed Forces, who took over as president of the club after his predecessor's reign came to an end.
Al Ain made remarkable progress in the 1990s under the joint leadership of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan and Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture and Information, who acted as the club's chairman and vice-chairman respectively. With such prominent royal supporters lending their weight, it came as no surprise that Al Ain quickly developed into the country's top side by conquering the local competitions time and time again, including a record three successive UAE league titles in 2001/02, 2002/03 and 2003/04.
The unprecedented success at home, however, did little to diminish Al Ain's appetite for more and shinier silverware as they set their sights on converting local hegemony into continental supremacy in Asia's first Champions League competition in 2003. Under the former Senegal coach, Frenchman Bruno Metsu, Al Ain kept an unblemished record by topping a group which also featured the likes of Qatari giants Al Sadd, Iranian powerhouses Esteghlal and Saudi heavyweights Al Hilal.
They then went on to edge out Chinese giants Dalian Shide 7-6 on aggregate to set up a final with tournament surprise packages BEC Tero Sasana of Thailand. In the ensuing clash's first leg, goals from Salem Johar and Mohamed Omer in each half sealed a 2-0 for hosts Al Ain, enough to surpass Tero's lone-goal victory in the return match and secure Al Ain's maiden continental laurels.
From there the UAE side would further cement their place as one of Asia's best by becoming the only team to progress beyond the group stage in each of the opening four editions of the region's Champions League, an impressive run which was only brought to an end last year as they suffered an early exit in the group stage.
A disappointing ninth-place finish in the domestic league in the previous season saw Al Ain fail to qualify for the 2008 continental showpiece for the first time. However, under the tutelage of former Cameroon coach Winfried Schafer, who took over at the end of 2007, the club have embarked on a process of rebuilding their lost credibility that continues apace.