x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Al Jazira's goalkeepers are in safe hands

Englishman David Coles is using boxing to help the champions' men between the sticks improve their fitness and reflexes.

led Eissa, Al Jazira’s No 1, centre, works the pads with goalkeeping coach David Coles as Khaled al Sinani watches.
led Eissa, Al Jazira’s No 1, centre, works the pads with goalkeeping coach David Coles as Khaled al Sinani watches.

It is a Tuesday morning at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium and the Al Jazira goalkeepers Khaled Issa and Khalid Al Sinani put on their gloves before training.

Nothing unusual in that, apart from that fact these gloves are used for right hooks and uppercuts, and not for punching crossed balls away from goal.

"I didn't really understand what David was saying when he told us that we were going to do boxing training one day," Al Sinani said before expending every ounce of energy within him by continually slamming his fists into pads.

"But now I get it and this has been brilliant for us. I'm loving it."

David is David Coles, Al Jazira's goalkeeper coach who arrived in the summer at the same time as the new managerial team of Franky Vercauteren and Hugo Broos.

Coles worked for the Premier League clubs West Ham United, Portsmouth and Southampton, and during that time coached the England international goalkeepers David James and Rob Green.

As soon as he set foot in Abu Dhabi, his goal was to improve Al Jazira's keepers beyond recognition and that can happen only if the training is right.

That is why he brought his boxing gear with him from England.

"The guys work really hard but would be happy to go out on the grass every day, dive about and save shots," Coles said. "That gets boring and I'm a great believer that variety is the spice of life.

"So boxing helps with their power and reaction. It's superb for eye-hand coordination, which has really improved the boys in recent weeks, their movement and balance."

It's good that the Al Jazira keepers like hard work - because that's what these boxing sessions are. At least once a week all the first-team keepers, apart from Ali Kasheif, who is out injured, are put through a variety of exhausting exercises in the gym.

On this morning, Coles had the two of them, one at a time, lying on their backs, then sitting up so that they could pound the pads held by Coles, left, then right, then repeat nonstop for a minute.

Then it is the other's turn and this goes on for half an hour, before the shadow boxing begins, which helps specifically with their movement.

"I try to relate other sports to goalkeeping," Coles said. "I'm going to get them playing tennis because, if you think about, the foot moment there is the same as being a keeper in that the players are constantly moving forwards, backwards and sideward.

"Swimming is something I've used, as well, since I have been here and that is to help with the physical development.

"I got into boxing at Portsmouth, when a former boxer in the British army worked there, and I've picked up other bits and pieces since then. Apart from anything else, it gets them using their hands, which is sort of in a goalkeeper's job description."

In the club gym, music blasts throughout the session, almost drowning out instructions and shouts of encouragement from Coles.

This is all very new for Al Jazira. "They think I'm mad," Coles said, and they may well do, but his charges are enjoying themselves.

Issa has established himself this season in Kasheif's absence and even forced his way into the UAE national team.

"Everything in my game has got better," he said. "My body feels quicker and stronger, and I really look forward to the boxing sessions. It is hard work, but I always feel good at the end of them.

"Coach David is a bit crazy but, then, so are all goalkeepers."

Al Sinani, whose physique is now akin to that of a light middle-weight fighter, has complete faith in anything Coles asks him to do

"The coach knows what is good and not good for us," he said. "We all trust him and I feel that I have got much better as a goalkeeper.

"We are serious every day in training and now we have three good goalkeepers at Al Jazira, so there is strong competition for a place in the team and that pushed everyone on."

With Kasheif sidelined, the team manager Mohammed Al Nieze joins in the sessions to make up the numbers. He even bought his own training gear.

"When I heard about it, I thought it sounded like a great idea," he said. "So I join in just to keep myself fit, although I have seen enough in the gym to know that I don't want to become a boxer. It's too tough."

Coles, 47, who spent most of his playing days at Aldershot Town before moving into coaching, loves his job at the Pro League champions.

He had no idea what he was getting into when he accepted the post at Al Jazira. Now that he is here, the Englishman wants to make a long-lasting impact.

"From my point of view, I wanted to bring an English football club mentality into Al Jazira," Coles said. "That's why we have different training and the music is loud in the gym.

"The players have really taken to it. I know what I ask of them can seem strange to them; however, it's been a pleasure to work with them.

"David [James] and Rob [Green]were consummate professionals and it was joy to work with them. These lads here are also fantastic. They are not lazy people and are desperate to learn, and in a reserve game the other day Al Sinani was brilliant.

"When you have attitudes like that, it makes my job a lot easier."


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