Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) based Al-Ahli SC went into this international break in 2nd place behind Al-Hilal with 14 points as opposed to the league leaders’ 15. The achievement isn’t there.
Yet, something is.
The mind-boggling stat that Al-Ahli SC has an undefeated streak of 40 games within the league across 3 seasons is truly incredible. Their last taste of defeat in ALJ League came against Al-Hilal back in January 2013. During that time, the club had gone through three managerial changes while altering their squad significantly, yet remained stable in a league where the titleholders are now in 7th after 6 games. Though this feat exists within domestic league play, at one point, Al-Ahli SC were undefeated in every competition they were in for nearly a year until they lost to Iran’s Naft Tehran in the Asian Champions League knockout stages in May 2015 leading to their exit from the competition. An observer would think that this achievement in itself is worthy of celebration and immortal status, yet it barely gets the attention and credit it deserves for a reason and one reason only.
Al-Ahli SC did not win Saudi’s Abdul Lateef Jameel league last season.
During the 2013/2014 season, the club’s late resurgence did not really matter as the loss to rivals Al-Hilal, team’s 5th of the season, resulted in Al-Nassr eventually being crowned as league champions. However, it was the 2014/2015 period, where glory had eluded the club while handing itself over, as to speak. This fact still brings about a cringing feeling to any and every Ahlawi, as the topic is discussed.
It was as close as the team, dubbed as the ‘Royal Club,’ ever progressed to the coveted trophy since they last won it 1984, and losing it while remaining undefeated only made it more painful. Al-Ahli SC dropped points against local rivals Al-Ittihad who themselves were going through an odd period, holding Al-Hilal twice, while ripping title holders Al-Nassr apart at both home and away. When they beat Al-Nassr for the second time in March 2015, destiny was in the hands of Al-Ahli SC. All they had to do was to see off their remaining fixtures against teams of lesser caliber and the league could have been theirs.
And surely, why would that be easy?
Al-Ahli SC dropped points against Al-Taawoun and Al-Ittihad handing Al-Nassr their second back-to-back title win in the latter’s history while Al-Ahli SC disappointingly glared into their trophy cabinet which consists of only two league titles since its founding in 1976. Another gloomy chapter came to an end at a club that proudly called itself the “Fortress of Trophies” with nothing but a Crown Prince Cup to its name in a season that could have seen so much more than just that.
Unsurprisingly, the record breakers Al-Ahli SC are infamously known for their misfortune. The club has earned the second position in the Saudi Premier League at seven different occasions, with being labeled the second best at six instances in the Crown Prince Cup – the highest of all Saudi clubs. The only competition which Al-Ahli SC managed to show their dominance was in the King’s Cup, a tournament which was taken off in 1990 and re-sanctioned in 2008, of which they have been recorded as winners a significant twelve times, a fate befitting of a club with a track record of bad luck in Saudi football. Al-Ahli SC’s bizarre streak of misfortune gave plenty of room for conspiracy theories, myths, and superstitious dogmas that would make you believe that you were watching a sci-fi thriller rather than one of the league’s best teams collapse in the moment that separated the contender from the pretender.
But Al-Ahli SC are not a pretender. In fact, far from it.
Pretenders do not go 40 games without a single defeat in a time-span of 23 months without collapsing at least once or twice. But what could explain this incredible imbalance in achievement and performance without raising a few eyebrows? The closest a Saudi team came in terms of undefeated streaks was Al-Shabab – who went 34 games without a defeat – while winning the league. The only rational explanation to this could be that it’s unexplainable and therefore a 40-game undefeated streak should not be associated with being league Champions. Treating the achievement in isolation would give it the credit it deserves, but it would still not please an Ahlawi.
Currently sitting in 2nd place behind Al-Hilal, Al-Ahli SC probably should and will focus solely on winning the league even if it means taking a risk and losing for the very first time in nearly two years. Ironically enough, perhaps losing could actually be good for the club. This amazing streak began in 2013, after losing to Al-Hilal ultimately losing out on the league that year. Maybe another loss is just what Al-Ahli SC needs to feel human and vulnerable again so they can objectively and critically reassess themselves before instigating a true shot at winning the ALJ League for the first time in 31 years.
Doubtfully speaking that there exists an Ahlawi whom, given the choice between remaining undefeated or winning the league while risking a couple of losses, would choose the former. This record, as it stands, is probably a burden more than it is a sense of pride for the players. Some pundits went as far as to state this as a mental block for the team’s creativity on the pitch due to their unwillingness to lose and would rather play for a draw than venture out and expose themselves in search for a win. Regardless, something has to change this season.
Do not get me wrong, nothing can take away from Al-Ahli SC’s determined resilience in the past three seasons. They have achieved something believed unimaginable and impracticable making it a formality in the eyes of its fans. Ahlawi’s have adopted the phrase “What does hard luck mean?” for nearly a year now with the answer yet to be found.
And something says that the answer surrounds around bringing home the league title. There is no argument that Al-Ahli SC has not played like champions they deserve to be. They absolutely have especially with comebacks and performances, which even earned praises from team legends. Their current status is reminiscent of an uncrowned king, banished from their rightful claim to his throne. Yet just like a banished king, it still carry itself as royalty. After all, they are ‘Royal’. A humbling experience is just what they need to come back and claim what is rightfully theirs. Even if that means ‘losing’ something they hold so close to their chest.