Coach Henk ten Cate called an end to his transformative two-and-a-half-year stint at Al Jazira on Tuesday night, less than 24 hours after the painful 2018 AFC Champions League exit at Iran’s Persepolis.
Ten Cate, 63, informed his squad that he had chosen not to seek a renewal of his expiring contract mere hours since their arrival back in Abu Dhabi. This followed a trying 2017/18 stained by off-field issues, but one that still saw them come within minutes of stunning Real Madrid in December’s Club World Cup semi-finals and make the continental quarter-finals for the first time.
The ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant answered an emergency call in December 2015 once the hyped return of 2010/11 Arabian Gulf League title winner Abel Braga turned sour and an unlikely relegation battle began. A rapid transformation in fortunes caused the 2015/16 President’s Cup to be lifted, prior to 2016/17’s incredible second-ever top-flight title success.
Defending the latter crown proved impossible and they limped home seventh, with hyped summer additions such as ex-France anchorman Lassana Diarra swiftly terminating their deals. But Ten Cate’s popularity among the squad that remained was shown by his grateful send-off at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
“Thank you for everything you did for me and the team, we will miss you,” tweeted right-back Mohammed Fawzi. “You was like our father.
“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.”
Ten Cate also turned down the Netherlands job in April 2017. He now signs off following this week’s near miss in Asia.
Thank u for everything u did for me and the team we will miss u .. u was like our father u teach us to believe in our self and we can do everything hard easy if we r together like a family.I hate to say good bye..just wanna say good luck in ur life boss I'm proud to work with u pic.twitter.com/ddd6cQeWPu— mohammed fawzi (@Mohamdfawzi) May 15, 2018
An 89th-minute half-volley from returning skipper Jalal Hosseini sent the 11-time Persian Gulf Pro League winners through on away goals in front of their baying, 80,000-capacity crowd at Azadi Stadium.
Brazilian forward Romarinho’s low leveller on the night on 70 minutes – soon after anchor man Ahmad Nourollahi’s thunderbolt – had seemed to be enough for Jazira.
Promising defenders Khalifa Al Hammadi, 19, and Mohammed Al Attas, 20, both performed admirably in Tehran – and throughout this term.
The promotion of these youngsters, plus emerging UAE midfielder Mohammed Jamal, will be Ten Cate’s lasting legacy in Abu Dhabi.
The inexperienced Pride of Abu Dhabi headed out on Monday into the cauldron atmosphere created by a fevered 80,000-capacity crowd at Azadi Stadium with a 3-2 advantage from last week’s home leg.
They appeared poised for a first-ever progression into the quarter-finals after Brazilian forward Romarinho’s low strike on 70 minutes – his sixth goal in eight continental games this term – immediately cancelled out anchorman Ahmad Nourollahi’s thunderbolt.
But waves of pressure, from a match in which the 11-time Persian Gulf Pro League holders had 69 per cent possession, finally told at the death. A jaded clearance from Musallem Fayez was immediately half-volleyed home by fellow veteran centre-back Jalal Hosseini to spark wild celebrations in the red half of Tehran.
“To lose like this in the 89th minute… we were very close,” said Ten Cate, who could have overseen the last match of his transformative two-and-a-half-year stint. “I think we did very well.
“It is hard to lose like this. We kicked the ball out for an injury and we didn’t get it back. From that action, they scored.
“We can learn from this. If you kick the ball out, kick it far away. But that is the inexperience of the team.
“We stayed so long within a fantastic atmosphere, with so many young players. The players deserve compliments. It will be a long trip back home, as the players are disappointed.”
Persepolis topped Group C in the ACL and earned a second-successive domestic title under Branko Ivankovic by a nine-point margin.
That the ex-Al Wahda coach declared he needed “Supermen” to defeat a team that contained promising defenders Khalifa Al Hammadi, 19, and Mohammed Al Attas, 20, speaks volumes about unfancied Jazira’s efforts.
He said: “Absolutely, we deserved to win and qualify for the quarter-finals. I am so proud of my players and so happy to be the coach of this group.
“Jalal [Hosseini] is a very important player for us. He is the leader of the team and he is a Superman – but he also had 12 team-mates who were Supermen.”
Returning Persepolis captain Jalal Hosseini decisively struck in the 89th minute at a packed Azadi Stadium to painfully deny brave Al Jazira a debut berth in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals.
Here are the talking points from Monday’s engaging round-of-16 decider in Tehran.
JUST AS JAZIRA COULD DREAM…
The contrast to last week’s slow-burning, 3-2 opener at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium could not have been made starker from the off.
Persepolis went for the jugular, knowing only victory would likely do, with a 4-4-2 formation in front of their baying 80,000-capacity crowd at the Azadi.
The Persian Gulf Pro League-holders had 21 shots to Jazira’s three, their 517 passes was 271 more than the visitors and they had 69 per cent of possession.
But this all seemed academic when Brazilian forward Romarinho beautifully found the bottom corner from 25 yards on 70 minutes, soon after midfielder Ahmad Nourollahi’s venomous breakthrough.
Henk ten Cate’s troops then appeared to have ridden the storm, only for veteran defender Mohammed Fayez’s tired clearance to land at the feet of the grateful Hosseini.
MAN FOR THE BIG OCCASION
Much was expected when the Pride of Abu Dhabi stole Romarinho last summer from the QNB Stars League.
He’d been prolific there for the amalgamated El Jaish, scoring 40 times in 72 top-flight run-outs. That makes his 2017/18 return for the deposed Arabian Gulf League champions, of just seven in 20 matches, disappointing.
But there is a significant caveat. The 27-year-old struck against Real Madrid in December’s Club World Cup semi-finals and in both legs versus Persepolis.
KEEP HOLD OF HENK
Changes will surely follow this summer – they always do.
Yet one man who deserves to stay is Ten Cate. Under chaotic circumstances off the pitch, the coach with an expiring deal nearly claimed another landmark achievement.
There is no better candidate to put Pride in Jazira’s name than the 63-year-old Dutchman.