x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Schaefer's fire is still burning

Winfried Schaefer gives the impression of being a firecracker of a coach. It is not just his blond locks that make him stand out.

Winfried Schaefer bellows out instructions during last week's 2-0 victory over Al Wasl.
Winfried Schaefer bellows out instructions during last week's 2-0 victory over Al Wasl.

Winfried Schaefer gives the impression of being a firecracker of a coach. It is not just his striking blond locks that make him stand out. He lives every game on the touchline, getting worked up with every move his team makes, good or bad, and celebrating goals wildly. But beneath the volatile exterior is a man with a single-minded focus on football.

This determination has seen the German produce results across the globe. He took Bundesliga side Karlsruhe to the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup in 1994, guided Cameroon to victory at the African Cup of Nations in 2002 and qualification to the World Cup finals in the same year. He also led Dubai's Al Ahli to the league title in 2006 and now has Al Ain well set for a Pro League title challenge, sat four points behind leaders Al Jazira going in to the winter break.

Schaefer turns 59 on Jan 10, but age will not change his nature. He lets his emotions take control during games. "That's how I have been from my childhood," said the German. "When I was little I had to play with the bigger boys on the streets. I had to be aggressive. I guess my actions must be from that upbringing. "But I do not mean to harm to anyone. I haven't criticised or spoken ill of the referees. All my actions are connected to my emotions and the spur of the moment. I want to celebrate like the players when my team scores. I don't think that harms anyone, and equally I show my anger on things that are wrong. They are all in the game. I don't carry it off the pitch."

Schaefer took charge of Ain in the middle of last season and has revived the team. They are still in with a shout of silverware in the Pro League, the Etisalat Cup and the President's Cup. Schaefer says he want to win all of them. "I have always played to win - as a player and as a coach," he said. "I think we have done quite well so far I don't see any reason why we can't win all the three titles this season."

Ain top Etisalat Cup Group C but they are best placed to triumph in the President's Cup. They should beat second division team Baniyas in the quarter-finals and a win will see them face with either the promoted Al Khaleej or Al Dhafra in the semis. Schaefer made some drastic changes to the squad after taking over the nine-times league champions. He is one of the few coaches in the league who has looked to youth in the place of those in the twilight of their careers.

And it is Ain's young brigade that has put them in the chase for glory. "The changes were necessary because we needed fresh blood and players who were hungrier to win," said Schaefer. "Fortunately we found some good young talent within the club and some from outside. Today they are producing good results. "It was good for some of the senior players like Subait Khater and Helal Saeed to play for another club. I feel they are also doing well. Sometimes these changes are necessary to get the players motivated."

Schaefer feels UAE football is heading in the right direction with the introduction of the professional league, and the signing of first-class players like the Chile international Jorge Valdivia, and the Brazilians Rafael Sobis and Fernando Baiano. "It is definitely better than when I first arrived in Dubai. There are many reasons for this. There have been a lot of good coaches in the past and present, and now the signing of top-class players like Valdivia, Sobis and Baiano.

"The local players too have improved tremendously and they are fitter and technically better. All this has improved the quality of the competitions. "When I took over Ahli, it was the Abu Dhabi teams who were dominating. Ain and Wahda had won the league between them for eight years in succession, and I was able to win it back for Dubai. "And since then Dubai clubs [Al Wasl and Al Shabab] have won the next two editions of the league. So the game has become more competitive with the rivalry between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and as a result the league is closer than before."

Schaefer has been linked to roles with Togo and Iran during his stint in the Gulf but insists he had no reason to leave his present job. "It is the ambition of every coach to lead a national team in the World Cup finals but you only have to work with people like Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed to know what you would be missing. "I am fully in to my job and enjoying every moment of it. I have no problem whatsoever and am not looking for anything elsewhere."

apassela@thenational.ae