x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Olympics: Football team ready 'to do something' after 11 days in Austria

The overriding memory of the 11 days in Austria is the quiet professionalism of the UAE football organisation, from the coach through the players.

The UAE Olympic team has been kept busy during the 11 days they have spent training in Austria.
The UAE Olympic team has been kept busy during the 11 days they have spent training in Austria.

After a UAE Olympic training session on a warm night last week, two men were chatting outside the Grandhotel Lienz when a banging noise could be heard from the open window of a first-storey room.

The voices of several young men rose in song, accompanying the drumming, and for a moment passers-by stopped and gazed up at the window, attempting to find the source of the commotion.

"I wonder who brought the drum," one of the older men said.

"That isn't a drum," the other replied. "They have turned over a trash can and are beating on it. They are having a small party, the players, inside the room, not outside, but so noisy everyone in the area is stopping to look.

"I know those guys. It's something funny. They are nice guys. They are having some fun."

After 11 days sharing the same hotel with the UAE Olympic team, it can be revealed that the 10-minute drum-on-trash-can episode was by far the biggest racket caused in that entire time by the 23 young Emiratis living and training far from home.

Many would assume that a football squad of men in their 20s would be the most prominent and loudest guests in any hotel, but Team UAE were remarkable by their low profile.

Indeed, they rarely left the hotel, except for the occasional walk to a grassy spot nearby where the rushing River Isel tumbles over some boulders, the sort of watery scene that would attract any desert-dweller.

That is not to say they were aloof to each other.

Each time the players, who were housed two to a room, got together, the latest to join the group shook the hand of everyone already there, including staff and even a reporter.

We tend to assume friction among so many athletes all seeking to be on the pitch, but it was never to be seen. No hard words in the lobby, no squabbles in training.

They gathered at 9.30am each morning for breakfast, in a special room near the dining area; they assembled for training - or a match - at about 5pm each day; they ate when they got back.

They prayed in a meeting room emptied of its furniture.

The leader of the group, the coach Mahdi Ali, was nearly a phantom inside the hotel. He seemed to spend huge stretches of time in his second-floor lodging, No 218, the Suite Aguntum, planning and thinking, content to allow the players to keep order on the floor below.

The leader among the players appears to be Hamdan Al Kamali, the Lyon defender. One memory: after the players assembled in the lobby to go to breakfast, Al Kamali examined the group, saw everyone in attendance and with a nod led them into the dining area.

At no time during the 11 days was the reporter granted an interview with a player or anyone from the official delegation. He was later informed: "No reporter has ever stayed in our hotel during a camp. Never."

Yet, no one was rude. The reporter was allowed to watch every training session and every friendly, and spoke to the handful of other Emiratis who came through the hotel.

He shook Mahdi Ali's hand the day on his first day at the hotel and on the last.

At the end, the overriding memory of the 11 days is the quiet professionalism of the organisation, from the coach through the players.

"This team is very serious, very serious in their job," said a visiting Emirati.

"They come in with this national team to do something."


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