Ex-UAE boss Mahdi Ali has been handed a six-month window to rehabilitate his reputation at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, or be shown the exit door.
The Arabian Gulf League was rocked to its core late on Saturday night when Cosmin Olaroiu’s trophy-laden four-year spell at Rashid Stadium was brought to a premature end by “mutual consent” a day after a sixth-successive stalemate was recorded in the top flight, and seventh overall, against lowly Al Dhafra. The man widely considered the Middle East’s greatest head coach had entered the final year of a monster contract reputedly worth €6.5 million (Dh28.4m) per annum.
This has provided an opportunity for Ali, 52, to return to management for the first time since he ended a revolutionary near half-a-decade spell in charges of the Whites last March with their World Cup 2018 dreams in tatters. The former Al Ahli midfielder and tactician was favoured by the merged club’s board because of his willingness to ink terms until the end of the season, with other options requesting a two-and-a-half-year stay.
“The board stressed the great trust it attaches to coach Mahdi Ali and his ability to modify the team’s course in the league after the results went down,” a Shabab Al Ahli statement read.
”His ability as a competent coach and previous record of success makes him the best option at this stage.”
‘Captain Mahdi’ inherits a squad containing 12 Emiratis who earned international caps under him, yet he must immediately correct the team’s tailspin.
In private, Shabab Al Ahli officials believed Olaroiu had stopped connecting with his squad and a forced intervention, no matter the official “mutual consent” line, was required.
Their draining run of draws sees them down in fifth and seven points behind joint-leaders Al Wasl, whom they next meet on Friday.
مهدي علي مدربا للفريق
شباب الاهلي ينهي عقد كوزمين بالتراضي pic.twitter.com/hUtugRCCcH
— نادي شباب الأهلي دبي (@alahlicclub) December 2, 2017
A soaring reputation had been earned by his paternal early care of the ‘Golden Generation’. He nurtured future AFC Players of the Year in Al Jazira forward Ahmed Khalil and Al Ain superstar Omar Abdulrahman when working for various youth national sides, further driving them on to participation in the London 2012 Olympics, victory at the 2013 Gulf Cup and a staggering third place at the 2015 Asian Cup.
Yet the qualified electrical engineer’s outmoded tactics and stale selections created a torturous Road to Russia. Ali resigned during March’s post-match press conference after a 2-0 loss to Australia left his nation well off the pace in the third-and-final qualifying round.
He has only previously dabbled in club management.
A short-term stint at Ahli – for whom he won the 1988 and 1996 President’s Cups as a player – ended swiftly after an embarrassing early exit on home soil to part-timers Auckland City in November 2009’s Club World Cup. He then held on to Bani Yas’ second place in the 2010/11 AGL when drafted in on loan from the UAE Under-23s that April.
Arabic media reported last week that Ali had made the three-man shortlist to become the next leader of World Cup qualifiers Saudi Arabia. Argentina’s Juan Antonio Pizzi beat him to the role.
His weekend ascension signalled the end of a historic era under Olaroiu.
All the rancour from his controversial July 2013 poaching from Al Ain was forgotten in the wake of a groundbreaking run to defeat in the 2015 AFC Champions League final and the sweeping up of seven major pieces of silverware.
Depleted champions Al Jazira battled back to stun Al Ain in a gripping latest instalment of ‘Al Clasico’, highlighted by the shootout between apex predators Ali Mabkhout and Marcus Berg.
The aforementioned summer buy from Panathinaikos moved onto six goals in seven productive Arabian Gulf League-run-outs within 20 minutes. Yet these strikes, at the same time speculation about iconic fellow Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s World Cup 2018-aspirations cranked up a gear thanks to his return for Manchester United after seven months out, could not quell game visitors for whom Mabkhout ruthlessly capitalised on errors just before the whistle in both halves to earn an uplifting share of the spoils.
The broken Boss will point to a loss of control catalysed by injury to rebounding centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman before the half-hour mark. Yet in the absence of celebrated opposite numbers Mbark Boussoufa of Morocco and Lassana Diarra of France, they should have had enough to gain a first derby win in five top-flight outings.
Berg, himself, was guilty of two later wild misses as the match ball slipped from his grasp.
Jazira’s result brought a shot of confidence three weeks out from the FIFA Club World Cup on home soil. Worries about a 10-point gap to now sole leaders Al Wasl can wait.
In the opposite camp, coach Zoran Mamic must immediately lift deflated troops after slips from Caio and teenager Saeed Juma.
— قناة أبوظبي الرياضية (@ADSportsTV) November 18, 2017
Meanwhile, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club finally broke their three-match scoreless streak but could only record a disappointing 1-1 draw with Dibba Al Fujairah.
Senegal hit man Makhete Diop responded from close range early in the second half to Ahmed Ibrahim’s shock opener.
Al Wahda’s attackers all struck as they thrashed Emirates Club 4-1.
Mohammad Malalla’s own goal got things started, with Sebastian Tagliabue, Balazs Dzsudzsak and Mourad Batna forcing the others.
Utility man Mohammed Fawzi has urged his UAE compatriots to embrace the culture of change after new coach Alberto Zaccheroni laid out a blueprint for success at January 2019’s Asian Cup.
A profligate 1-0 loss on debut to Haiti plus an Ali Mabkhout-inspired 1-0 triumph against Uzbekistan were recorded under the ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan tactician during this international break. Fresh faces, such as Al Nasr prospect Jassem Yaqoub, received educational minutes in both fixtures, while the latter clash at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium saw the Italian’s trademark 3-4-3 formation wheeled out.
These alterations combined to create a marked shift from the short Edgardo Bauza-era which preceded, featuring three mixed competitive matches and a failure to make World Cup 2018. For Al Jazira’s Fawzi, who played in centre midfield in the 4-3-3 utilised against the Haitians before switching to right wing-back in Zaccheroni’s second run-out, a willingness to be adaptable is key to prospering in the latest regime.
“We’ve got a new coach and we play now with 3-4-3,” said the 27-year-old. “We have to train in this plan, for the future.
“We didn’t look for a result, we looked for something good for ourselves. We have a lot of young players, and they have a lot of energy.
“The result comes last. But when you win, you always feel happy.
“I hope in the next camp it will be easier for us. This time, the coach had only 10 days with us.
“Hopefully, he’ll have more time to learn about what the players need and what they want.”
— قناة أبوظبي الرياضية (@ADSportsTV) November 14, 2017
The Whites expect to next come together from December 9-17, with plans under way to attract European opposition.
Zaccheroni vowed to study the Arabian Gulf League in the intervening weeks to mine for more surprise call-ups.
He said: “I told the players that I’m not a coach for one or two individuals, but for the entire team.
“I’ll be looking for new players all the time because we didn’t have many of the regulars in the two games we played. I’ll be watching and scouting for new players, and providing them the opportunities.”
Veteran team manager Abdullah Saleh praised the October appointment’s early work, joking about the contrast to the high-profile failure on the Road to Russia of Zaccheroni’s nation.
He said: “I am very happy, because I feel how the Europeans deal with the professionals. I could see his plans, his brain – it was fantastic.
“He is doing good. Italy went out of the World Cup, but he is doing good.”