Mahdi Ali was yesterday placed in charge of the senior national team until 2015.
His appointment comes as little surprise but it is significant in that the Football Association has given an Emirati the job after a succession of foreign coaches with little success.
And he has the right credentials for the role, having led the UAE age group team to a maiden Gulf Cup, Asian Cup, the last eight in the Under 20 World Cup, an Asian Games silver medal, and an appearance at the Olympics Games in London – the first time the country has ever qualified for the event.
Yousuf Al Serkal, the FA president, made no secret of the desire to promote Mahdi Ali’s during the London Games.
“Mahdi has been our first choice as the senior national team will comprise mostly of the same players of the Olympic team who flew the country’s flag in the London Games for the first time of its history,” Al Serkal said.
“We are determined to restore the glory days of the UAE’s football. And although we dream big, we are equally realistic. We need to go close during the first two years as front runners for the titles at Asian level while keeping eye on qualifying for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia.
“To be realistic, it’s our belief that the general impression was positive. The boys did well in the three games at the Olympics. Many international coaches have praised the UAE players and that’s why we have decided to go ahead with the same technical staff.”
The UAE went down 2-1 to Uruguay in their Olympic opener followed by a 3-1 defeat to Britain, the hosts. They rounded off the campaign with a 1-1 draw against Senegal.
Mahdi Ali has agreed to take on the job but has yet to sign his three-year contract with the FA, which he is expected to do in the next day or two.
A special committee has been set up to discuss with Mahdi Ali the details of his new job pending the signing of separate agreements which accommodate the duties and entitlements of the newly appointed coach.
“He was consulted before an agreement was reached,” a spokesman for the FA said. “It is now a formality to complete the paperwork.”
Mahdi Ali, 47, takes over from compatriot Abdullah Misfir, who was appointed as the caretaker coach after the dismissal of the Slovenian Srecko Katanec in September because of the team’s poor results in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Some of the leading football analyst and commentators in the country have welcomed Mahdi Ali to the job.
“He has done wonderfully well with the age group team and there is no reason why he shouldn’t be given the opportunity,” Kefah Al Kaabi, a former player and television pundit for MBC, said.
“The FA has tried out several foreign coaches in the past and they have not had much success. So why not give Mahdi a chance. He knows all the players and is respected by all.”
Some of the players Mahdi Ali was in charge of at the London Games have also offered their support.
“For me, he is like an older brother and for some others he is a fatherly figure,” said Ismail Matar, who was one of the three overage players and the captain of the Olympic team.
“The FA has done the right thing by appointing him. He has earned the respect of the players with his way of handling them both on and off the field.
“He speaks the same language and shares the same culture and that becomes so much easier for us to share things and understand him better.”
Hamdan Al Kamali, the 23-year-old defender and Matar’s Al Wahda teammate, has been working with the coach since they won the Asian Cup in 2008.
“He has helped me all through my time with the age group team and I am very happy he now takes charge of the senior national team,” Al Kamali said. “He is a strict disciplinarian but at the same time he is a very caring person, like the head of the family.
“We can also discuss anything, even personal matters, because he has become so close to us.”
Al Kamali was given a one-match ban and left out from the Olympic team’s crucial qualifying match against Australia when he decided to go his own way to strike a six-month loan deal with Lyon, the French Ligue 1 club.
But Al Kamali said he had no remorse.
“He [Mahdi Ali] did the right thing because I know he put the team before anybody else,” Al Kamali said. “That’s why he has got the respect from all the players.”
Mahdi Ali becomes the eighth coach to take charge of the UAE in the last 10 years.
His first task will be preparing the team for the Gulf Cup in Bahrain which takes place from January 5 to 18.
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