One of the more fascinating chronicles of foreign coaches in Middle Eastern football is the impact or fate of Aurelian Cosmin Olăroiu – the ‘infamous’ Al Ahli (UAE) gaffer. The Romanian’s comments about his future in recent news conference have raised a few eyebrows. The conversation has kindled a passionate fire among many Ahlawi’s who believe he should remain. Some of these very fans, once upon a time, called upon him to leave the club after disappointing performances last season. Those “No to Olăroiu” chants at the Rashid Stadium at the end of last season are still ringing out loud in my ears. And then there are those who still feel he should be shown the door. Quite honestly, it is a sentiment I cannot understand.

Any pushback on Olăroiu continuing as Al Ahli’s manager is truly perplexing to me. After all, Olăroiu has won trophies in four different countries, one European (Romania) and three Middle Eastern (Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE).

The 46-year-old had come out strong in an interview recently, suggesting a rift between himself and a club member. Although Al Ahli chairman Abdullah Al Naboodah has a feeling who the other person is, he is quite confident that we will see Olăroiu at Rashid Stadium, come next season.

“The club position won’t change. Our reply was always that with Olăroiu we have a two-year contract and that is what we are relying on in terms of the relationship between Olăroiu and the club.”

Al-Hilal's head coach Cosmin

And a similar cry supporting Olăroiu can be heard from the fans as well – as explained by John McAuley, a journalist with UAE based newspaper The National.

“Again, definitely. Cosmin’s first match after he suggested that he might leave was the final league game against Al Shaab, but he emerged from the tunnel and the fans gave him a great ovation. And when he was introduced at the trophy presentation, he got possibly the loudest cheer. Remember, Cosmin has taken Ahli to two league titles in three years – the first ended a five-year drought at Ahli – and also to a first ever Asian Champions League final. He is on the verge of a third successive President’s Cup final. The team obviously enjoy playing for him, want to play for him, and he gets the best from his players.”

And rightly so. Al Ahli is on the verge of greatness after a successful season which saw the club finish as runners-up at the coveted Asian Champions League Final and of course current domestic league champions. His demand has only increased across the region as the ripple effects makes its way to Romania.

Emanuel Rosu, an expert in Romanian football, expressed his thoughts on public perception on Olăroiu back home in Romania.

“He is regarded as one of the top managers the country has at the moment. People didn’t forget his success with Steaua and FC National, two teams he guided to great results. He is always an option for the National team when we talk about replacing our manager. Let’s see if that will happen at some point.”

There are those who are disturbed and even upset that clubs in Middle East tend to splurge their finances on foreign coaches with Olăroiu falling under that list. Prior to his stint at Al Hilal, he was relatively unknown during his playing time as well as from his short managerial tenure. Fans were concerned when Al Hilal announced his signature in 2007. Yet, with a hefty financial backing personally and operationally, Olăroiu went to work winning the Crown Prince Cups twice in between a Saudi league title. Fans were now convinced. But the Romanian decided that it was a time for a change and headed eastward towards his next destination – Doha, Qatar taking on the reigns at Al Sadd in 2009. There, he led the team to lift the now-defunct Qatar Stars Cup.

Olăroiu’s moved on to the hill city of Al Ain in the UAE where he led the team to two league titles and a Super Cup trophy within a span of two seasons, during which the league saw Al Ain put on some beautiful display of football that the club had ever seen.

Cosmin 2

The feisty manager who had spent more time directing his players from the stands than any other coach in the Arabian Gulf League, then moved to Dubai after Al Ahli came calling immediately finding himself in hot water as soon as he stepped onto the pitch. The controversy surrounding his managerial move revolved around his criticism of his former club on their unprofessionalism in handling his contract renewal. This reproach resulted in Olăroiu being handed a fine of AED 100,000, the largest in the history of UAE football, along with a three game suspension.

Regardless of the earlier misfortune, Olăroiu’s background and experience was soon on display as he fetched Al Ahli two league titles, a league cup and a super cup trophy. But his best achievement till date across his time in the Middle East has to be him leading the Fursan to the Asian Champions League Final losing out to China’s Guangzhou Evergrande by a lone goal.

And after his most recent triumph resulting in Al Ahli lifting their seventh domestic league title, rumours have emerged that he may just be leaving for Romania.

However, Emanuel believes that might not be the case.

“Hard to see it happening. Only if he finally comes to manage the National team, but I doubt he’s going to do it now. Romania will change manager after Euro 2016. With him being a top option, he can expect at least a call. A lot will depend on his contract with Al Ahli and the type of offer the Romanian FA make him.”

When and if Olăroiu decides to leave, the volume of tributes for him as one of the top premier managers in UAE football will be resounding. Having him leave from Al Ahli will only provide the club with a legendary name associated forever with the side, all assuming that he does.

Moreover, he will be exiting knowing his impact on UAE football has been nothing but positive, according to John.

“When he came to Al Ain they were fighting relegation, but he transformed the side into the UAE’s best team. He did the same with Al Ahli, although the foundations had already been put in place and they were in a much stronger position than when he arrived at Al Ain. Cosmin has improved the professionalism of those two clubs and their players, making the players realise what is needed to get the maximum from their talent. He is very keen on sports science and game preparation, not just physically but also in ensuring his players have as much information about what is needed from them and what they can expect from their opponents. He is a brilliant man-manager and motivator, too, and the development of Ahmed Khalil is a perfect example of his influence. The UAE national team, who recently have selected nine players from Ahli and various other who worked under Cosmin at Al Ain, have certainly benefitted from his approach at club level.”

However, many have called him to stay back including Al Wahda’s Mexican manager Javier Aguirre.

“I would encourage him to stay at Ahli; of course, both of them (referring to Zlatko Dalic of Al Ain). They have to. We have a very good coach who has come in at Al Shabab too — Fred Rutten, I used to play against him with Schalke and Atletico Madrid. Big names are coming here.” Going on to add, “It’s good for the league and also for me as a coach to share moments with these guys. It’s good for me to test myself against the likes of Cosmin….”

Yet as we look forward to another season, we look forward to another vision. And we all agree that Cosmin Olăroiu has become somewhat of a chaser, using his flair to unendingly pursue greater challenges that awaits him.

And as for Olăroiu’s current status away from the circulating rumors, according to John.

“As of now, he’s officially staying, but I still believe he’ll leave. However, there are no guarantees, especially in UAE football, so it depends on Ahli finishing the season strongly – they’re still in the President’s Cup – and whether he is backed again by the board. He’s had a disagreement with someone there, but we don’t know if that’s resolved or that it will be. Personally, I’d like him to stay. He’s undoubtedly one of the best coaches in Asia, if not the best, so to have someone of that profile is only beneficial to the league. He’ll often give a killer quote in a press conference, too. And watching him on the touchline is always entertaining – a ‘Cosmin Cam’ for during matches next season would make for great viewing. He’s box office.”

There will no doubt be those who take a dig at him and hoping for him to cut his Al Ahli stint short. Olăroiu, quite honestly, for one could not be bothered. The Asian Champions League and another shot at glory now beckons for Olăroiu — perhaps the biggest of all before the curtains drop.​

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