On Thursday, Al Jazira confirmed news from earlier in the week that manager Henk ten Cate had left the club following two and a half seasons in charge. John McAuley looks at the indelible mark the Dutchman made during his time in Abu Dhabi
Henk ten Cate's legacy in UAE football: he made Al Jazira believe in themselves
Mohammed Fawzi posted a heartfelt message on social media, paying his respects to Henk ten Cate, but also confirming the manager had decided to leave.
“Thank you for everything you did for me and the team, we will miss you,” tweeted the Al Jazira right-back, with an accompanying picture of Ten Cate standing over a cake conveying the team’s gratitude to “Our Father”.
“You were like our father,” Fawzi continued. “You taught us to believe in ourselves and we can do everything – hard, easy – if we are together like a family. I hate to say goodbye. Just want to say good luck in your life boss, I’m proud to work with you.”
The sentiment was sincere, unanimous too. The players offered Ten Cate their thanks, wishing him well for the future. Members of the coaching staff added their thoughts, speaking glowingly about the Dutchman’s impact.
There had been ups and downs during his two-and-a-half seasons with Jazira, as there would be at any club and sometimes more than most, but the positives were plentiful. Ten Cate’s influence would be felt long beyond his reign.
A former Ajax manager, he arrived at the end of December 2015 having taken a call from the Jazira hierarchy on Boxing Day. Jazira were in a funk, languishing 11th in the table after Abel Braga’s return to the club had proved misguided.
Jazira’s one-time great manager, Braga II was outmoded in the new Arabian Gulf League and out of touch. He lasted 16 matches.
While the threat of relegation never felt real given Jazira’s reputation and resources, it had to be addressed. So Ten Cate accepted the offer, and Jazira embarked on one of the most successful periods in their history.
They won the 2016 President’s Cup, withstanding an onslaught from Al Ain to triumph on penalties. They finished seventh in the league. The following year, Jazira were UAE champions for only the second time, winning the title with two rounds to spare, breaking a number of professional-era records, including most wins in a season (22) and most points accrued (68).
Ali Mabkhout, revelling in Ten Cate’s decision to make him the focal point of his attack, scored 31 goals in 23 matches – unparalleled for an Emirati. Things had gone that well that Ten Cate turned down the Netherlands national team job, unconvinced by the role, reluctant to walk out on Jazira.
Then, last December, Jazira came within a VAR replay of going 2-0 up against Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Fifa Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi. Real Madrid. The reigning European champions, the tournament’s title-holders.
Jazira had already seen off Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds, but as had been initially expected, Madrid were a step too far. Still, it required Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to wreck the fairytale.
Officially, Ten Cate’s tenure came to a close on Thursday, following a trying 2017/18 campaign. A series of off-field issues contributed to a troubled title defence, highlighted by the departures of high-profile summer signings Lassana Diarra, Ahmed Khalil and Sardor Rashidov.
Jazira finished seventh, although from February Ten Cate prioritised the Champions League. The continent represented his final frontier.
Club World Cup: Madrid win title but Al Jazira do UAE and Abu Dhabi proud
It nearly bore fruit, if only Musallem Fayez connected properly with his clearance in the 89th minute of Monday’s last-16 second leg against Persepolis in Tehran. Jazira went out on away goals, and soon Ten Cate was off. At 63 and keen to spend time with his family, he left on his terms.
He left an indelible mark as well. Success was built upon a strong team ethic, an emphasis on the collective. Ten Cate was well liked, by players, the club administration, the media. Often, he described himself as a “glass-half-full man”.
For the majority, he praised his players, particularly in public. At times, he reminded how his side could not compare with talent stockpiled at Al Ain and others, but he ensured they were often more than the sum of their parts.
The talent Jazira did possess, and it was still considerable, he inspired and encouraged, regularly extracting their best.
To his immense credit, Ten Cate promoted a succession of youngsters, placing faith in the likes of Mohammed Jamal, Khalfan Mubarak, Salem Rashid, Mohammed Al Attas and Khalifa Al Hammadi. It is why he will be remembered, another reason he should be celebrated.
Most importantly, and as Fawzi declared in that wholehearted post, Ten Cate made Jazira believe in themselves.