x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE's Mahdi Ali well versed in project management as next stage begins

Meticulous planning and attention to detail were the chief demands of his profession as the UAE take on Vietnam in their opening match of 2015 Asian Cup qualifying in Hanoi, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Mahdi Ali, second left, leads his UAE players out on to the pitch for a training session ahead of their match against Vietnam in Hanoi today. Courtesy UAE FA
Mahdi Ali, second left, leads his UAE players out on to the pitch for a training session ahead of their match against Vietnam in Hanoi today. Courtesy UAE FA

While in Bahrain, midway through the UAE's successful Gulf Cup campaign, Mahdi Ali talked about how his career as an electrical engineer had influenced his coaching philosophies.

"In my professional life, I have been involved in several major projects in Dubai and coaching has also become a project work for me," said the UAE coach, who helped set up Dubai's parking project and the ticketing system for the Dubai Metro.

"As an engineer and being a government employee of Dubai Municipality and the RTA [Roads and Transport Authority], you had projects with goals and targets that you need to achieve on a daily basis."

Meticulous planning and attention to detail were the chief demands of his profession, and Mahdi Ali has brought those ingredients to football coaching as well.

"It is the same in football for me - we put the goals and we start working towards achieving it. So many people see us on TV and talk about strategy, vision and mission. But they don't talk about operation plans, because whatever you do, you need to have an operation plan. That's the most important thing.

"With our operation plan, everybody knows his role and responsibility in the team and we have been following this model a long time with the players."

Like his earlier engineering projects, Mahdi Ali is finding success with his "Project Football" as well.

The Gulf Cup was part of his short-term goals and he has ticked it off. Now, it is time for his long-term projects - success at the 2015 Asian Cup and qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

That project kicks off today in Hanoi, when the UAE meet Vietnam in their opening Group E match of the 2015 Asian Cup qualifying.

Well, actually that project kicked off on January 28 when Mahdi Ali assembled his 23 players and flew to Shenzhen, China, for a week-long training camp.

Feted throughout the seven emirates following their Gulf Cup success and rewarded with more than Dh170 million in riches, the team needed to get over this celebratory phase, for the bigger targets lay ahead. And Shenzhen was the perfect choice, away from the fans, media and any other distractions.

Being close to Guangzhou, the venue for the training camp must have also brought back memories of their silver medal at the 2010 Asian Games and helped in keeping the motivation going.

And then the loss to North Korea in a friendly - only the second defeat in Mahdi Ali's reign with the senior team - must have reminded the players that they still have some way to go before they can achieve their goal of being among the top three in Asia.

When they landed in Hanoi on Sunday night, then, the Whites must have been a determined lot, disappointed at the North Korea defeat and ready to make amends against Vietnam.

Defeat does not rest easy on the conscience of this golden generation and fostering a winning mentality is essential to the success of Mahdi Ali's Project Football.

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

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