x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Coton: I came not knowing who was in charge

Former Manchester United goalkeeper says he moved to Al Ahli and Dubai without the knowledge of his other colleagues in the support staff.

Fabio Cannavaro, centre, takes part in training with his new Al Ahli teammates at Rashid Stadium in Dubai last night.
Fabio Cannavaro, centre, takes part in training with his new Al Ahli teammates at Rashid Stadium in Dubai last night.

DUBAI // As steps in to the unknown go, Tony Coton's decision to leave behind his family, friends and home to accept the goalkeeper coaching position at Al Ahli, the ambitious Pro League club, was definitely in the leap category. "I was looking at opportunities to get back in the game without really searching for a job," said Coton, whose 10-year association with English Premier League side Manchester United ended in 2008 because of a knee injury. "I spent a few months helping out at [English Championship side] Queens Park Rangers when Mick Harford was caretaker manager and I got the bug again. "Then, out of the blue, I got a call asking if I was interested in coming out to Dubai. "I thought it was a little pie in the sky at first, but I got another call from the club, they told me about the package and I talked it through with my wife." Less than a month later, Coton, with the green-light from his wife, agreed to join Ahli's backroom staff. Little did he know that fellow newcomers Gordon Ellis, the physiotherapist, John Phillips, a fitness coach, and Chris Loxston, a Prozone analyst, were also bound for the Emirates. The surprises did not, however, end there. The former United, Manchester City, Watford and Sunderland shot-stopper readily admits that the quartet had no idea that Ahli's new board were in discussions with David O'Leary, the former Leeds United and Aston Villa manager, to take over at the helm. "I came in without knowing who the manager was going to be," said Coton, who trained Peter Schmeichel, Fabien Barthez and Edwin van der Sar in his Old Trafford days. "Not one of us knew each other when we arrived on June 25, but we'd all heard different rumours about who the manager was going to be." With O'Leary bringing experienced heads such Roy Aitken, his assistant at Leeds, and Malkie Thompson, a former Birmingham City coach, with him to Dubai, Coton revealed that the club's distinctly British coaches had been implementing a host of new ideas to the Ahli players on a recent four-week pre-season training camp in Austria. "There's a British feel to the coaching set-up and we want that to run through the club, in terms of the togetherness and work ethic that is associated with the game at home," said Coton. "We respect the local culture and traditions and don't want to upset or change that, but the players know things need to change if they are to improve and become better and they've taken everything on board. "They're quick learners and I'm really impressed with what I've seen so far. The application, desire and commitment was first class in Austria and some of the players commented on how the staff stick together. I got the impression they hadn't had that before and it is already rubbing off." With traditional British football methods and vernacular flying around Ahli training sessions, Coton added that the players are not the only ones adapting to the club's bright new era. "As coaches, we're under no orders to learn Arabic, but we're picking up some basics as we go," said Coton. "Half of the squad speak excellent English anyway and they pass on what we want to those that are not as adept. Things have started well." emegson@thenational.ae