Mahdi Ali likens himself to Cristiano Ronaldo as he takes over at Shabab Al Ahli

Matt Jones - Editor 22:33 06/12/2017
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Just like Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo is playing himself through a lean spell in front of goal, Mahdi Ali insists he has nothing to prove after being unveiled as Cosmin Olaroiu’s replacement as Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club coach.

The Romanian’s revolutionary run at Rashid Stadium came to a shuddering halt earlier this week when his contract was ended by “mutual consent” the day after a sixth-successive draw was recorded against Al Dhafra.

Ali’s first assignment at the club where he spent his entire 15-year playing career, plus a brief managerial stint in 2009/10, could hardly be tougher as Shabab Al Ahli head to Arabian Gulf League leaders Al Wasl on Friday.

The Cheetahs, who are unbeaten in their last 25 matches in all competitions, were also buoyed by news on Wednesday that their Brazilian gem Fabio De Lima has signed a four-year contract extension until 2022.

Ali’s best work as a coach has been during a five-year stint as UAE national team coach, which was brought to a sad end in March with their 2018 World Cup hopes in ruins.

Prior to that, however, Ali led the Whites to an unprecedented third place at the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia as well as Gulf Cup of Nations success in 2013.

He also led a talented group of emerging talent at the 2012 Olympic Games in London – many of whom make up the current senior UAE side – and the 52-year-old is adamant he does not need to convince anyone of the merits of his coaching.

“After being in this field for 16 years, I don’t need to prove anything to myself. I have done things which convinced everyone of my talents, and I have nothing more to prove,” Ali said, likening himself to Portugal powerhouse Ronaldo, himself the subject of criticism as both he and Real have endured a difficult start to the La Liga season.

End of an era: For Cosmin at Al Ahli.

The 32-year-old forward has just two goals in 10 La Liga games this season for Los Blancos but Ali insists this does not mean he has suddenly become a bad player.

He added: “A coach or player is basically the same thing. Sometimes you see Cristiano Ronaldo, he doesn’t play a good game. But that doesn’t mean he is not a good player.

“He does not need to prove that he’s a good player. Because everybody knows he is a good player. This is normal, sometimes you have a good result with the team and sometimes you are not winning, because another team is fighting.”

Ali, who began his journey with the UAE as assistant of the Under-16 team in 2003, played 194 league games for Al Ahli between 1983-1998, lifting two President’s Cups with the Red Knights in 1988 and 1996.

And at his unveiling back where it all began for him on Wednesday, the former midfielder said he is excited by the new challenge ahead.

“What I can say is it is good to have a new challenge and this challenge always makes you motivated to fight for this club and the goals we are looking for,” said Ali, who has taken the Rashid Stadium reins initially until the end of the season.

“I didn’t come here to prove something, I came here to accept a new challenge and to do something for this club. Because I think this club deserves to be in a better position.”

Devastating De Lima, meanwhile, will have delighted Wasl fans with his contract extension, which the club tweeted out on Wednesday.

There had been rumblings the 24-year-old – scorer of 11 goals in 10 AGL games this term – had been agitating for a move away from Zabeel Stadium earlier this season, but he told the club’s website he had turned down several “attractive” offers to stay in Dubai.

“I preferred to renew my contract with Al Wasl despite the many attractive offers,” he said.

“I am happy in the team and have a great attachment to the fans of Al Wasl. I want to contribute with my colleagues to achieve championships and the aspirations of the fans.”

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