Abdulla: Keeper without a pause
When it comes to tenacity, Mutaz Abdulla is a prime example. He has stayed on top of his game despite his advancing age.
Now 37, he saw Al Wahda extend his contract in June, and the Emirati has already repaid the club with a performance that won them the season-opening Super Cup in a shoot-out against Al Jazira.
Abdulla feels he has another season or two left in the top flight and believes that the sport in the country is heading in the right direction despite poor recent results from the national team.
He has experienced the switch from amateur to professional status in the UAE but says it remains a work in progress.
"The change from amateur to professional will take a lot of time," he said. "Perhaps 10 years for it to just sink in to the players and the club administrations. Everything has to change, from the rules, attitude and mentality."
He began his career at Al Sadd in Qatar, where he grew up. He moved to the UAE and represented Al Ain from 1998, winning four league titles, five President's Cup medallions and the Asian Champions League in 2003 before crossing over to Wahda in 2008.
He won a fifth league medal with Wahda in 2010 but he suffered a broken ankle in the first game of the season and played only 75 minutes in the championship season.
Josef Hickersberger, his coach at Wahda, described his first-team goalkeeper as a "true professional" and role model.
"His work ethic has kept him on top of his game," the Austrian said. "It is not usual in this part of the world for a player to go through the rigorous training when he has all the comforts around him.
"He must have some real love and hunger to be still playing at the top level. He doesn't need a coach's orders to get on with his work. He knows how to keep himself in prime condition.
"He even came back after a fractured ankle when everyone else had given up hopes of his return."
Abdulla spent more than 15 months on the sidelines and had two operations on his ankle. The first surgery was a failure, and even he had given up hope of returning. "I was told my days as a player were over," he said.
"I still insisted on a second opinion and travelled to Germany. There they told me it can be cured and I took that chance of doing a second surgery."
Abdulla trains with his gym instructor in the mornings and joins the team training in the evenings. After returning from surgery, he focused in the summer on regaining full fitness.
"He is a role model," Hickersberger said. "I have seen him passing on all his experience to the younger players. So he has more than one role in the team, and I encourage that [as] a very healthy sign of a team."
Abdulla's understudy is Adel Al Hosani, the Olympic team goalkeeper who is also in the national squad.
"Adel is next in line but he must try to win his place from me," Abudulla said. "I like that challenge and that also keeps me fighting for my own place." Abdulla is an all-round sports fan. "I love to participate and watch all sports, particularly volleyball, tennis and table tennis," he said.
Like most footballers around the world, he loves to drive flashy cars. A CL-class Mercedes Benz and a Infiniti FX50 are the two he owns.
Walid Salem, now the Al Ain captain and goalkeeper, was his teammate at the Garden City club and the national team.
"We were the top two choices for the national team and played for the same club," said Salem. "It is very strange because we never had a problem in sharing the goalkeeping duty, both at the club and national team.
"That only proves Mutaz's qualities as a wonderful human being. I looked up to him as an older brother."
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Updated: December 22, 2011 04:00 AM