Sabella & Jovanovic early candidates for UAE

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Alejandro Sabella

Alejandro Sabella, who led Argentina to the 2014 World Cup final, and respected ex-Al Nasr boss Ivan Jovanovic have been earmarked as long-term targets to replace departed UAE coach Mahdi Ali.

Overtures has been made to determine 62-year-old’s Sabella’s availability by the UAE Football Association, although a heart condition places doubts on this move.

The eight-times-capped former midfielder, who hasn’t worked since leaving Argentina in the wake of their 1-0 defeat to Germany in Brazil, underwent an angioplasty in December 2015 and was hospitalised again four months later only to be released after five days.

In regards to 54-year-old Serbian Jovanovic, who won three trophies from 2013-16 under now UAE FA president Marwan bin Ghalita at Nasr, talks have not begun.

This has opened up the possibility of an alternative candidate being selected ahead of their next qualifier against Thailand on June 13.

Croatian Zlatko Dalic, 50, enjoyed a positive relationship with many of the current squad at Al Ain from 2014-17 but is yet to be approached, while 59-year-old

Colombian Reinaldo Rueda – who guided Honduras and Ecuador to the 2010 and 2014 World Cups – would be extremely interested in accepting the role.

Ali, 51, handed in his resignation for the second – and final – time during a tortuous World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign immediately after Tuesday’s limp 2-0 defeat in Australia.

The result left the Whites four points off the progression spots with just three games left in Group B, with a change of direction needed to keep alive slim hopes of a second-ever participation.

“In talks at the point of transition between [ex-president] Yousuf Al Serkal and Marwan bin Ghalita [in April 2016], it was made clear Alejandro Sabella and Ivan Jovanovic were favoured by the new regime if a replacement was required for Mahdi Ali,” a senior and well-positioned source to the UAE FA said. “But you never know, a third man could appear from nowhere.”

A failure to already nail down a successor to Ali is curious in the wake of Ali’s revelation that he had initially offered to quit prior to November’s 2-0 victory against Iraq.

After that game, rumours also reached fever pitch that he had told the squad – many of who he first guided to success at the 2008 AFC U-19 Championship – that he planned to step aside.

Ali’s exit after four-and-a-half years at the helm has ramped up pressure on Bin Ghalita to get this decision right, with passionate calls in Arabic media arguing he and his board should exit as well.

Jovanovic was dismissed by Nasr in October 2016 after three years of fine work were undone by summer-buy Wanderley’s eligibility scandal.

Dalic left two months after guiding Al Ain to November’s 2016 AFC Champions League final.

The 2014 President’s Cup and 2014/15 Arabian Gulf League winner was in attendance last Thursday as the UAE lost 2-0 to Japan.

Highly-rated Rueda most recently won the 2016 Copa Libertadores with Atletico Nacional.

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COMMENT: Mahdi Ali shouldn’t solely shoulder the blame

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Mahdi Ali

Trading on past successes, underperforming players, outdated tactics and disgruntled supporters. This time, we’re not talking about Arsenal and Arsene Wenger.

Instead, this is the situation UAE boss Mahdi Ali found himself in as he did what the Frenchman is yet to do and belatedly called time on his unravelling four-and-a-half year reign as UAE boss Tuesday.

Yet this represents an overdue decision which should have been taken long ago by his masters at the UAE Football Association.

A failure to make the uncomfortable choice to relieve a legend of his post has led to an avoidable situation in which a ‘Golden Generation’ looks set to miss a rare shot at the World Cup.

The failures by Ali in the last 18 months are plentiful. But they are not his alone. The 51-year-old stepped aside with his nation’s mission to make Russia 2018 on life support after a 2-0 defeat to Australia.

This performance was not as wretched as the reversal which preceded it against Japan, yet it was by no means befitting of a side who should have been desperately searching for a positive result. Ali’s place in the pantheon of UAE football greats is assured.

Nurturing a promising group all the way up from success at the AFC U-19 Championship in 2008, to making the London 2012 Olympics, winning the 2013 Gulf Cup and finishing third at the 2015 Asian Cup guarantees a respectful spot in the history books.

Nevermind the fact that under his tutelage, Ahmed Khalil and Omar Abdulrahman claimed the 2015 and 2016 AFC Player of the Year gongs. But a place in the future should never be assured when the present situation is so sub-par.

All Ali’s long-term faults were on show against the Socceroos. The obsolete 4-4-2 formation denied valuable possession, familiar faces such as Al Ahli right-back Abdulaziz Sanqour stayed in the XI despite awful form and too much responsibility was placed on ‘Amoory’.

Hot prospects such as the Al Jazira pair of Mohammed Jamal and Khalfan Mubarak were either left at home or on the bench, acolyte Khalil was thrust into action even though he admitted he was unfit and a failure to respond to the physical demands of international football caused two unmarked set-pieces to be conceded.

A sense is undeniable that players used to hearing the same voice had long stopped listening. Simply, the achievements of two years ago Down Under represented the zenith of this regime.

The degeneration was in evidence during a fitful second-round qualification process. The alarm bells only grew louder last October with a humiliating 3-0 defeat in Saudi Arabia.

Action should have been taken at that moment or even, as Ali revealed in Sydney, when he originally handed in his notice before November’s uninspired 2-0 victory against Iraq. But the UAE FA, again, refused to act.

The governing body’s stasis is questionable when you consider the fact that, more than likely, this incredible squad’s finest years are set to go to waste. For a group all presently aged around 26, Russia 2018 was the tournament to secure the nation’s second-ever entry into sport’s grandest event.

With only 1.4 million Emiratis, such opportunities rarely come about. Even the World Cup’s increase to 48 teams in 2026 does not guarantee participation with competitiveness growing across Asia. There are 77 days until the UAE’s next qualifier.

A right call must be made on who follows, but can the FA be trusted to do it?

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'The team needs change' - Mahdi Ali resigns after Australia defeat

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Mahdi Ali

Coach Mahdi Ali ended his transformative four-and-a-half-year spell in charge of the UAE yesterday with the nation’s hopes of making World Cup 2018 in ruins, revealing a previous bid to resign last year had been rejected.

Headed set-piece goals from Burton Albion midfielder Jackson Irvine and Ingolstadt winger Mathew Leckie were enough to secure a comfortable 2-0 win for Australia in a Group B qualifier in Sydney.

The damaging result left the Whites four points off third spot and its potential route to the inter-confederation play-offs, in the process forcing their 51-year-old boss to immediately announce his exit during a post-match press conference.

Ali had gained success with the ‘Golden Generation’ – which has produced the last two AFC Players of the Year in Al Ahli forward Ahmed Khalil and Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman – from the Under-19s through to the London 2012 Olympics, also winning the 2013 Gulf Cup and finishing third at the 2015 Asian Cup. But stale selections and tactics had bedevilled a Road to Russia which has regularly featured rumours about an exit.

He said: “I regret my declaration to resign, but the team now needs to change. I spent five years with the team, made a lot of achievements and now it is the time to leave.

“I tried to give everything within my power and I apologise to the public.

“I submitted my resignation before the Iraq match [a 2-0 win in November], but the UAE Football Association insisted on continuing our mission.

“I am satisfied with what was presented during my time with the team. It is a difficult moment in my life and I wished to leave the team in a better condition.

“The coach is part of the team, but there are many other tools that control the conditions.”

The ex-UAE and Ahli midfielder won 40 of his 65 games in charge since August 2012, drawing 10 and losing 15. Previous talk had appeared in November about Ali being talked out of making an exit.

“I can’t deny that the defeats have been really tough,” veteran forward Ismail Matar told beIN Sports. “We could have done better. These are two painful defeats and we have to bear the consequences.”

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