x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Al Nasr show intent to strengthen squad for next season

Iran's fitness trainer will reunite with 'competitive' Walter Zenga from Al Ain days.

Mick McDermott, the former Al Ain fitness coach, who performs the same role for Iran.
Mick McDermott, the former Al Ain fitness coach, who performs the same role for Iran.

In a clear sign of their intent for next season's Pro League, Al Nasr have prised away Iran's fitness trainer Mick McDermott as an assistant to Walter Zenga in charge of the players' fitness.

Nasr finished runners-up to Al Ain last season after a late season surge, but Zenga was keen on making changes to his support staff in a bid to go one step farther.

McDermott was a long-term fitness trainer at the club he will now challenge - Al Ain - working five seasons there under nine different coaches; one of them, for six months as it happens, was Zenga.

"I wasn't looking for a job but I was back here on a short break and happened to talk to Zenga, who said he was making changes to his staff," McDermott said.

"One thing led to another and I had a discussion, and for several reasons decided to come back."

One reason was that his family was still based in Al Ain after he joined Iran in March 2011. The travel back and forth and time spent away from family, he said, was one of the major considerations when he made the decision. But that was not the only one.

"Obviously in football terms it's not as good a level as international football but it has its upsides," he said. "To be working day to day with players, the chance to be working with Walter with whom I worked with at Al Ain in 2006 were big factors too."

The prospect of working with Zenga was a particularly attractive one. The Italian has worked wonders at Nasr since being appointed in December 2010, when they were fighting relegation.

The club, which had not finished in the top three even once since 2000, finished third in Zenga's first season and now, last season, second. "He was at Al Ain for about six months and I thought he did well with the team we had at the time," said McDermott.

"He did well, he was organised and he improved the team but they were struggling.

"He is very serious, very competitive, very disciplined and demanding of the players."

There was still regret, however, at leaving what is one of the most intriguing jobs in world football, particularly as Iran represented a possible opportunity for McDermott to go to the World Cup.

"I was there for 15 months and football-wise, it was great," he said. "The players are good players, fantastic to work with, very receptive. They were all good guys and I had no problems with any player.

"Living in Tehran, it can be difficult sometimes but overall, it was a great experience.

"I'm disappointed at leaving the staff, Carlos Queiroz [Iran's coach] and the other guys, and I'm also disappointed about leaving the chance to go to the World Cup."

There was sympathy as well for members of the national side, as they struggle to separate themselves from the political perceptions of Iran.

"I feel bad for the players because they are good guys, but because they are Iran and how the world looks at them, it's hard to arrange friendly games with them because no one wants to play Iran. It's hard to get opponents to come down there.

"I understand there are bigger political things at play, but it is unfortunate the players suffer for it."

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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