Just weeks after an international meeting in qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the ties between football in the United Arab Emirates and Australia continue to grow with the news that Nikolai Topor-Stanley has signed for Hatta Club – nicknamed “The Tornadoes” – in the Arabian Gulf League this week.
The former Wanderers star joins Caltex Socceroo star Mark Milligan in the UAE and is the 15th signing that the ambitious Hatta have made since they earned promotion to the top flight with a game to spare in April.
Hatta, based around 120kms to the south-east of Dubai, is starting out its first ever campaign in the top tier of a professional UAE league and it really wants to stay at the top.
And the big Australian is needed.
The club’s league form has been mixed so far with three games bringing a win, a draw and a loss. But the Tornadoes have conceded 14 goals in their last four league and cup games.
That makes for ominous reading, and surprising too as the team’s first game back in the top flight was a goalless draw against Al Wahda, one of the country’s top teams that also possesses serious firepower.
It was a display in which Hatta worked incredibly hard defensively to keep a clean sheet.
After three successive 4-0 losses (two in the cup, not a priority this season, and one in the league), Hatta needed to bounce back.
“Teams that get used to losing continue losing, and teams that become accustomed to winning continue winning,” said coach Waleed Obaid.
“We need to get our first win and then we can move onwards and upwards from there, putting together a winning streak.”
A 2-1 win over fellow top tier new boys Al Ittihad was much needed but there is still much to be done.
Fans are hopeful that the mixed start to the season is a result of a much-changed team needing time to gel and build an understanding rather than it being because of a too-big gulf in class between the first and second divisions.
The Brazilian trio of Jair Da Silva, Tassio Santos and Rodrigo Silva did much to help Hatta to promotion last season but have all left.
In have come midfielders Mihai Radut and Adrian Ropotan from Romania. Other additions are Burkina Faso striker Issiaka Ouedraogo and Yaseen Al Bakhit from Jordan.
Mohammad Malallah was one of ten Emirati players to join the club and is under no illusions as to how tough the season will be.
“Everything is difficult when you start,” he said. “Hatta has brought in many new players. But the mood is good even though the situation is difficult for the coach.
“Inshallah we will stay up, everyone at the club is working hard to achieve that and I think we can do something.”
There is plenty of experience in the team that is geared towards surviving the first season.
Topor-Stanley may be 31 but will be one of the younger members of the defence. It is his leadership and defensive qualities that are needed by the club.
He should not expect Western Sydney Wanderers’ style massive support, either.
The club will be happy to reach four figures at home but there will be more than enough challenges for its new defender.
Football Federation Australia