Asamoah Gyan has backed Zlatko Dalic to remain as Al Ain manager despite the club’s disappointing exit from the Asian Champions League, insisting the Croat deserves “respect”.
The UAE champions crashed out of the continental competition in spectacular fashion on Wednesday night, conceding three goals in a five-minute spell against Al Ahli to eventually draw the last-16 second leg 3-3. After a stalemate in the first match, Al Ain were eliminated on the away-goal rule.
Rumours regarding Dalic’s position have been swirling since the result, with the club’s supporters taking to social media to call for the coach’s dismissal.
However, Gyan defended Dalic immediately following Wednesday’s encounter, citing his record at the Garden City side since he was installed as manager 15 months ago.
Taking charge of a struggling, albeit talented squad, in February last year, Dalic guided Al Ain to the President’s Cup crown, a semi-final place in the 2014 Champions League and then to a 12th UAE championship this season.
Al Ain had excelled in the Champions League group stages again this time around, finishing top of their pool.
Heading into the return fixture against Ahli, they boasted the tournament’s best defensive record, while they departed the competition unbeaten in their eight matches.
Asked if Dalic should remain in his position, Gyan replied: “Why not? He’s done an incredible job. This game was the first we lost in the Champions League. Tactically we’ve done well, we’re the team that conceded the least goals.
“Defensively we’re better, although we conceded three here. In our last 16 games, no team has ever scored two goals against Al Ain. So we’ve been solid defensively this year. We should have completed it in this game, but we couldn’t.
“Zlatko has done a good job, he needs a bit of respect. If he leaves then it’s football, but I don’t think he should. He needs respect.”
Gyan had given Al Ain an early lead at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, scoring after four minutes. Yet the hosts crumbled at the beginning of the second half, when Ahli defender Salmeen Khamis levelled the match to spark a frenetic five minutes. In that time, Ahmed Khalil struck twice to put Ahli 3-1 up.
Requiring three to turnaround the tie, Gyan pulled one back on 78 minutes, before substitute Rashid Essa restored parity on the night in injury-time. Al Ain could not grab another, though, and in the process missed out on a place in the quarter-finals.
“I’m very upset with this result, frustrated and sad we went out in this manner,” Gyan said. “We started the group stage with good results, but we conceded silly goals — three in five minutes, which is incredible.
“After they equalised we were down. I don’t know why we should go down after 1-1. They capitalised on our mistakes, took advantage of us and scored three goals in five minutes, which is uncalled for. I’m very, very upset; for the first time very upset with conceding goals. We can take goals, but not silly ones like this.
“But kudos to Ahli. They did what they could, they qualified from a hard group in a hard way, they continued with their performance and their strong mentality and they won. This was a game for the mind, and the toughest team with a strong mentality carried through.”
Individually, Gyan’s 2014/15 campaign has not been his finest, although the winner of the Arabian Gulf League’s three previous Golden Boot awards still managed to score 24 goals in all competitions.
Injuries and illness stunted his season, with Gyan also involved with Ghana at last summer’s World Cup, and then again in the African Cup of Nations earlier this year. Consequently, this has not been his finest stretch in UAE football.
“It affected me a lot,” he said. “I’ve complained and complained, but we’re professionals. Last season I played every game — Champions League, President’s Cup, went to the World Cup. Every game I played 90 minutes. This season, I had a couple of injuries and I was very, very tired. There was a bit of frustration — I had a bout of malaria, injuries — where physically I wasn’t that good. But thank God I’m back to my normal shape. This particular game I felt good so we have to start from there.”
Gyan will now take time away from football, before returning to Al Ain next month for pre-season. This term may have concluded regrettably — last week, Al Ain lost their President’s Cup quarter-final against Al Nasr — but the striker reminded that his side emerged as the reigning UAE champions.
“There’s frustrations, but at least thank god we went home with something,” he said. “We won the league and next season we’re still participating in the Champions League even though we’re out. We have to go home with our family, go on vacation, then prepare our body and our mind and everything to come back to start the season again.”