BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: Qatar Stars League (QSL) champions Lekhwiya, who got little match-practice at a lacklustre pre-season camp in Austria, will have to play courageous football in the next nine months to raise hope of a fourth title in the 2014-15 season that kicks-off today.
Coached by experienced Belgian Eric Gerets, Lekhwiya last season produced slick football to top the title race ahead of Doha giants Al Sadd, Qatar powerhouse El Jaish and last season’s surprise package Al Sailiyah.
However, Gerets’ unceremonious departure in the off-season meant Lekhwiya were quick to rope in former Swansea coach Michael Laudrup as their new manager.
Laudrup, who signed a one-year contract in July, knows Gerets’ quick exit resulted after Lekhwiya failed to add Sheikh Jassim Cup, QNB Cup, Qatar Cup, Asian Champions League or the Emir Cup trophies to their trophy cabinet.
The 50-year-old Dane also knows that with Qatar team busy preparing for the Gulf Cup (November 2014) and the Asian Cup (January 2015) in the next five months, Lekhwiya will miss their national team players for greater periods of time than they did last season.
A series of international friendlies for the Qatar national squad in the build up to the Gulf Cup and the Asian Cup means Lekhwiya will be forced to rely on their foreign imports and an inexperienced bench strength in the new season that kicks off today with two games.
Laudrup said he knew the deal of a busy season prior to his signing with Lekhwiya.
“I have seen the schedule; we start off with the Gulf Cup in November, then the Asian Cup in Australia in January so it will be a very tough season for our players in the national team,” Laudrup told QSL website.
“Then we also have the Asian Champions League starting in February as well. This will be a challenge and we as a club must be aware and prepare accordingly.
“We really need to have a good squad because if key players get injured then we need quality players who can go into the first team and replace them,” Laudrup added.
Last week, hosts Lekhwiya lost to Al Sadd in the season-opening Sheikh Jassim Cup clash that left unanswered questions from star striker Sebastian Soria who was off-colour for most part of the match. However, Laudrup would be pleased to get the services of Spanish centre back Chico Flores, feisty Tunisian midfielder Youssef Msakni, Slovakian midfielder Vladimír Weiss and reliable Korean Nam Tae-Hee for their campaign in the new season.
Despite what many would consider decent quartet of overseas players, Laudrup is keen to keep every one in the mix.
“Firstly as a new coach at a new club I should be fair to the players who are already here, I need to see them first instead of just coming in and making drastic changes,” Laudrup said.
“After all they did win the league so they deserve a lot of credit for that,” the former Ajax, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus midfielder added.
Laudrup’s main challenge - besides keeping his bench strength fit and raring to go - will be to keep the wins rolling as did Gerets last season when Lekhwiya notched up an impressive tally of 16 victories out of their 26 matches.
Despite a sluggish pre-season in Austria, where Lekhwiya had to cancel a game against a local side due to lack of players (seven of his boys were away on Qatar duty), the QSL champions will have to be on guard against the resurgence of Al Sadd and title-hungry El Jaish.
Lekhwiya take on Qatar SC in their first game of the season tomorrow.