Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bahdari shines as Hajer secures Pro League survival

Bahdari (#12) scoring the winner against Najran

The biggest news eight months ago was Abelatif Bahdari's move to the Saudi Pro League- making him the first Palestinian player since Ziyad Al-Kord to grace the pitches of the Kingdom. Speculation centered on whether or not the Gazan would be up to snuff in a league that featured many of Asia's and the Arab World's top talents.

Bahdari's Saudi adventure was preceded by a successful two-year stint at Jordanian giants Wehdat. The hulking defender made his presence felt in Amman; leading the Jordanian club to the first ever domestic sweep of the SuperCup, FA Shield, FA Cup, and Premier League in his second season. 

How has Bahdari's first season in Saudi Arabia gone? Hajer status as minnows meant that Bahdari was never going to lift a trophy this year. The main objective for the club was to avoid relegation- top-flight status for a second straight year was clinched after a 1-1 draw with fellow relegation battlers Qadsiya. Bahdari played a big part in the lead-up to the deciding game- scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 win over Najran the week before. The win broke Hajer's two and a half month drought without a win (their last win vs. Al-Ansaar also came courtesy of a Bahdari goal). 


The numbers speak for themselves: 


Bahdari started 22 games for Hajer. He sat on four occasions (twice for card accumulation, once because of injury, and once because of the threat of card accumulation), he was never subbed off, and was second on the team in minutes played. The Gazan's three league goals made him the second leading scorer on the team and was even handed the captain's armband on more than one occasion. 

It wasn't all good for Bahdari- he missed a penalty in a 2-1 loss against Taawon in September and was on the pitch for some of Hajer more embarrassing moments including a 7-0 loss to Al-Ittihad in which he scored an own goal (Bahdari would make amends in the return fixture- a 0-0 draw). 

That said, Bahdari wasn't given a lot of help by Hajer's management. Four different goalkeepers started in the league for Hajer this season. Rafael Barbosa, his defensive partner, was brought in solely due to his Brazilian passport. Barbosa's claim to fame? A Journeyman's career in Brazil's state leagues before signing with the mighty Baku FC- he was released from his contract with the Azeri side and met the same fate twice in two years with Slavia Sofia and now Hajer. 

The other foreign players (each Pro League team is allowed three, but Palestinians do not count towards the cap) were equally underwhelming. Hazem Jawdat was an average Jordanian League player with Shabab Al-Ordon with only two national team caps to his name. At least Jawdat pitched in with 21 league appearances, unlike the Nigerian striker Franklin Ayodele who managed to log in a measly 229 minutes (no goals scored) for the entire season. 

So what's next for Bahdari? His contract runs for another season and he has yet to be linked with a move away from Al-Ahsaa. Hajer could choose to cash in- but would need to sign Bahdari to a longer contract in order to see any real money come their way. At the time of writing, it looks like Bahdari will stick around for another season- his stated ambition is to do well in order to open the doors for other Palestinian players. Perhaps he can convince Hajer to look to the WBPL to strengthen their ranks over the summer.