Al Wahdat swing to double-four time
Winning any title is an impressive achievement, but claiming two in the same season is always special, given the need for most sides to prioritise tournaments and not risk ending the year with nothing. The odds of securing four in one season, therefore, would have to be sky high, yet that is precisely what Al Wahdat have done. Moreover, they have just managed it for the second time in three years – and in record-breaking fashion, boasting stats unique in the Pro League’s ten-year history.
Heading into the final stretch of the 2008/09 season, Al Wahdat were closing in fast on the Jordanian league and cup double. After an intense tussle in the closing matchdays finally saw them crowned league champions, they went on to defeat rivals Shabab Al Ordon 3-1 in the FA Cup final just days later. Their feat was all the more impressive given that the club had already secured the country’s Super Cup and FA Shield earlier in the campaign, giving them a glorious quartet.
Fast forward to the start of the 2010/11 campaign, and the team’s top priority was simply to reclaim the league crown they had lost in painful circumstances the previous year, when bitter rivals and fellow Amman-based outfit Al Faysali pipped them to the title on the final day of the season.
Early concerns over new coach Dragan Talajic’s ability to bond with his players were quickly swept aside by the club’s outstanding performance in the FA Shield competition. Their 2-0 defeat of Al Jazeera in the final was a bold statement of intent by the Croatian coach and his charges, and set the tone for another season of triumphs.
The next challenge came a few days later, when the Green Ultras, as they are known, faced off against Al Faysali in the Super Cup, the season’s traditional curtain-raiser. After a fiercely contested but goalless 90 minutes, Talajic’s men finally netted in extra time to claim their second piece of silverware.
That hugely impressive start forged a high degree of trust between the coach and players, and went a long way to winning over a large and vociferous fan base accustomed to nothing but than the best.
On the double
From the outset it was clear that Al Wahdat would stop at nothing to regain the league title, entering every fixture with the same do-or-die attitude. Yet for all that, they faced a number of setbacks over the course of their campaign, not least a succession of injuries, the suspension of goalkeeper Amer Shafi, and the loss of star players Hasan Abdalfatah and Amer Deeb on loan moves. Through it all they stayed firm, recording victory after victory to lift the league title and, shortly afterwards, the FA Cup. Rarely can a double have been more richly deserved.
Although the titles and trophies tell their own story, Al Wahdat’s dominance is best illustrated by their numbers. Including their fixtures in the AFC Cup, where they are through to the quarter-finals, they have won 32 of their 39 games, drawn six and lost just one. In the process they have racked up 82 goals and conceded just 23.
A master class
Though clearly a team effort, much of the credit has to go to captain and veteran striker Rafat Ali, who was an inspirational presence all season. The man the fans call ‘Picasso’ had the following to say about his side’s all-conquering campaign: “These trophies are the fruits of the hard work we put in all season long. The players wanted to win every single game. We’ve picked up four titles and reckon we’ve got a chance of a fifth in Asia. Our greatest asset is our huge fan base, who’ve supported us all season long. They deserve these titles and we hope to give them more of the same in the years to come.”
The final word went to Talajic, who had only good things to say about his side’s adaptation and persistence: “At the outset I was worried we’d have a lot of problems, but the players made a superhuman effort to adjust to my way of training. It wasn’t easy to say we wanted to win all four titles, but with determination and teamwork we made good on our promise. Everyone at Al Wahdat worked for this, and now the squad have a wealth of experience they can draw on to go on and dominate, not only locally but in Asia. I hope we can maintain our standards and I’d like to thank each and every one of the players for what has been a historic season for the club.”