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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Zaccheroni needs time, patience and to learn from past mistakes if he is to achieve his sole task - lead UAE to 2019 Asian Cup success

Italian has been appointed based on his record of Asian football, which includes the 2011 Asian Cup with Japan, and the UAEFA hope he can replicate that success with the national team.

Alberto Zaccheroni spoke of the challenge, of wanting to go somewhere where he felt wanted.

Vastly experienced, the Italian had been out of both management and the public eye since May last year. He had kept busy with some work for the Italy national team. Apparently, he kept an eye, too, on Asian football.

It is a relationship first developed in 2010. After an entire management career in his homeland, 27 years highlighted by winning Serie A with AC Milan in 1999, Zaccheroni looked East. He was installed as Japan manager after the World Cup in South Africa, and within five months had led the team to Asian Cup success.

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Ultimately, it convinced the UAE Football Association that he was the right man to replace Edgardo Bauza as national team manager. Seeking someone to bring a struggling side forward, the FA looked back. They turned to a manager with a 2011 continental crown to deliver another in 2019.

For that constitutes the target, however daunting a task that appears at present. Zaccheroni was told he was wanted, so he accepted the challenge. The remit is clear: just like he did with Japan, he has to guide the UAE to Asian Cup success.

Taking place on home soil, the FA feel it represents the greatest opportunity to win the tournament since 1996, when they last hosted. Then, they were runners-up - still their best finish - but there exists now a totally different landscape in Asian football.

In 1996, 12 teams competed. In 2019, and for the first time, the Asia Cup expands to 24. In that time, the continent has grown to become ultra-competitive. In Fifa's latest world rankings, the UAE rank 72nd, and 7th in Asia. Last month, they finished fourth in their group to make next summer’s World Cup. Zaccheroni’s mission is to lift them to No 1, if only for that one month in early 2019.

As such, he has been given 15 months to plot a path to the title. Whether that is adequate time remains to be seen. Whether the current UAE squad is capable is open to debate. Confidence is low after the road to Russia met a dead end, there are a number of question marks surrounding a side expected to build on third place at the 2015 Asian Cup with qualification for World Cup 2018. Then, a genuine attempt at Asian Cup success.

But it was not to be. Bauza’s reign, lasting five months and three competitive matches, was unexpectedly brief. It opened the door for another candidate again, and eventually Zaccheroni walked through.

As a man of his background would, he strode into his introductory press conference on Tuesday and said all the right things. The team possesses the talent to be better than they are; only hard work and a collective spirit will allow them to succeed; the World Cup disappointment has been already confined to the past.

Zaccheroni must look to the future, although he must learn from the mistakes of the recent past and build on some initially decent work by Bauza. There remains much to do.

No matter what transpires between now and 2019, Zaccheroni will be judged solely on the Asian Cup. In the interim, he must get to know his players quickly, learn the culture and instill his discipline and his doctrine effectively and efficiently.

Personally, he will feel he has a point to prove. Most recently a manager in May last year, Zaccheroni lasted five months and nine matches in China with Beijing Guoan.

Now, he should be afforded time and patience - precious commodities in UAE football - and he will be initially at least. The FA have plumped for their man, and there will be debate as to whether he represents the correct choice, but everyone must get on with helping him perform to his best ability.

Asian Cup 2019 looms large. Having felt wanted by the FA, Zaccheroni has a relatively small window to repay that faith.