x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Circuitous route to Tehran via Belfast and Al Ain

Mick McDermott commutes from the UAE to work with former Manchester United and Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz in Iran, writes Osman Samiuddin

Mick McDermott, the former Al Ain fitness coach who performs the same role for Iran. The Belfast-born 45 year old, who still lives in Al Ain and commutes to Iran, played in a lower tier of the US soccer pyramid and served as an assistant at Quinnipiac and Oregon State universities Pictures of the Iran fitness coach and former Al Ain fitness coach for a profile we are running Weds for Thurs. Photo courtesy of Al Ain Sports & Cultural Club
Mick McDermott, the former Al Ain fitness coach who performs the same role for Iran. The Belfast-born 45 year old, who still lives in Al Ain and commutes to Iran, played in a lower tier of the US soccer pyramid and served as an assistant at Quinnipiac and Oregon State universities Pictures of the Iran fitness coach and former Al Ain fitness coach for a profile we are running Weds for Thurs. Photo courtesy of Al Ain Sports & Cultural Club

There is a worldliness to Mick McDermott that is difficult not to warm to. Originally from Belfast, he has trod the kind of path around the globe that only a sporting occupation can provide.

He has played league football in native Ireland as well as the A League in the USA (the division below the MLS), he has worked at Al Ain and is currently working with the Iran national side.

McDermott is, by trade, a fitness coach (and has the pleasant zeal of a reformer as it happens), having picked up qualifications studying sports science in the USA and through Uefa.

"It's something I always wanted to get into," he said. "After college in the US I played in the A League, professionally if you want to call it that, but not a great living. But I got into coaching there, took my licences and started Uefa licences."

Two years as an assistant coach in the USA brought him, six years ago this month, to Al Ain. It happened through the kind of circuitousness that captures perfectly both the UAE's sporting sprawl into the world, and McDermott's own mobility.

Renzo Gracie's famous jiu-jitsu academy in New York was approached by Al Ain, who were looking for a fitness trainer. The academy's trainer was alerted and he recommended McDermott, a friend.

And though he has moved on professionally, he is still based in Al Ain - living "right across the road from the club,"- with his family.

He travels for long stretches to Iran, whom he joined as a fitness trainer in March 2011, but is still effectively based in the city.

He was with the club for five seasons and outlasted nine coaches in that time, in itself a considerable feat and a result of being recruited directly by the club rather than arriving as part of a new coach's staff. He still often refers to them as "we".

"This is the best year and the best team we have had," he said of a club sitting comfortably top of the Pro League.

"Two years ago we won the Super Cup, the President's Cup and the Etisalat Cup in one season but we struggled in the league. It's great to see them doing well. They should win the league, I hope they win it."

McDermott is a fitness coach with a modern head and an old heart. He has little time for the jargon new fitness trainers throw on to coaches but equally little time for ex-player coaches who insist on doing things as they did them in their day.

His work, as those who have worked with him confirm, plays a big part in his life.

"He's very ambitious," said Liam Weeks, Al Ain's performance analyst, who worked with McDermott for over two years. "He's constantly reading articles and keeping up to date with the latest research. He does a lot of brainstorming with other world experts in his field."

But he is also a devoted family man. Thrice during the chat, he mentions how much he misses his four children and wife now that he is in Tehran so often. But he is accepting of the situation, his professional drive and personal life finding some kind of balance.

"Who can say they've been to Iran, worked there and survived for a year?" he said. "It hasn't been easy being away from home. I have four kids who go to school in Al Ain. We've kept the same villa. It's not the perfect arrangement, but it is what it is."

Weeks shared an office with McDermott - "He's quite a funny guy with a great Northern Irish wit about him" - and much time with him off the field. McDermott lived and breathed the club, Weeks said of their time together.

"Before I came here I was a bit unsure but I found out Mick was here and I called him," Weeks recalled. "I had about 5,000 questions for him but he just settled it, saying it's a great place, great club, nice people around. He really helped persuading me to move here and settle in."

And though the traveller - and ambition - in McDermott has an urge to work in Europe, he does not rule out a return to the Pro League in the future.

"I was in it for six great years. When I came it was all a bit random but the UFL since got things organised and the Pro League has carried that on. There's standard game-day procedures, there's press activity, medical facilities are good, the broadcast is fantastic. The last two years especially it's been great with massive improvement. I'd want to work here again. The life here is great and the football is good."

osamidduin@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE