Ali gets six-month shot at Shabab Al Ahli to show enduring worth

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Back to business: Mahdi Ali is returning to the dugout with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club (Getty).

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.

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.

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