The UAE Football Association has officially gone to war with its two leading stars after Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout received four-match club bans – subject to appeal – for being found guilty of breaking curfew the night before January’s grim Gulf Cup-final defeat to Oman.
It was announced on Sunday that 2016 AFC Player of the Year Abdulrahman, 26, and 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Mabkhout, 27, illegally exited the team’s hotel in Kuwait City from 20:15-22:30 on January 4 prior to an awful penalty-shootout defeat against a nation ranked 28 places below them by FIFA. They were joined by 27-year-old Al Jazira utility-man Mohammed Fawzi – who was injured at the time of the incident.
A probe was launched into the Whites’ dismal showing at the tournament – in which they scored once in six games under new Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni – from January 8-18, with these acts of ill-discipline the centre point. The players in question were all interviewed, with the findings and evidence sent to the governing body’s Disciplinary Committee who confirmed the punishments on Tuesday.
Alongside the domestic suspensions for Al Ain’s Abdulrahman and Jazira’s Mabkhout, they were given written warnings and Dh50,000 fines. Fawzi was just warned and received a Dh40,000 fine as he was unavailable for the match in question.
Serious rifts risk being opened with these key figures, in a team tasked to reach the final next January on home soil at the 2019 Asian Cup. The UAE are provisionally scheduled to next play a friendly against Thailand, in March.
In the immediate aftermath of UAE FA president Marwan bin Ghalita’s announcement on Sunday, the trio all tweeted defences.
Al Ain playmaker ‘Amoory’ posted that he would “defend my rights and use all legal means against anyone who tried to distort my reputation”.
بن غليطة : تم تحويل اللاعبين الثلاثة وهم النجوم ؛ علي مبخوت، وعمر عبد الرحمن، ومحمد فوزي، الى لجنة الإنضباط لاتخاذ الإجراء اللازم حسب اللوائح المعتمدة. pic.twitter.com/6YtG9mvgZr— UAEFA (@uaefa_ae) January 21, 2018
Jazira striker Mabkhout stated “our performances on the pitch is the most-authentic testimony, it will not be stained by rumours and intimidation”, while Fawzi wrote “we will not allow anyone to discredit the local players”.
Abdulrahman will miss AGL games for the leader against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, Ajman and Emirates Club. He will also sit out February 16’s Arabian Gulf Cup quarter-final decider at Al Wahda.
For Mabkhout, he’ll be missing top-flight matches against Dibba Al Fujairah, Al Nasr, Al Dhafra and Al Wasl for the struggling holders.
An unshakeable feeling of unfinished business convinced Ivan Jovanovic to answer the emergency call from Al Nasr – the club who unceremoniously sacked him little more than a year ago.
Jovanovic, 55, has chosen to remain out of work since a sharp downturn in results saw the Blue Wave terminate a three-and-a-half-year tenure in October 2016. His spell there included ending a 25-year trophy drought with the 2014 GCC Club Cup, plus an Arabian Gulf Cup and President’s Cup-double a year later.
The Dubai outfit moved quickly to reappoint him last Friday after they dispensed with the services of ex-Italy tactician Cesare Prandelli because of his inconsistent debut campaign.
“It is certainly a new challenge for me, that is why I am back,” said Jovanovic at his second unveiling on Monday, who has signed up until the end of 2018/19. “We did a lot during my three-and-a-half years.
“I always had a feeling that I did not finish my work here, there was more to be done at Al Nasr.
“Because previously, we won the cups and had a good presence in ACL. But we did not compete for the championship.”
He added: “I am very happy to be back in Al Nasr, again. For the past three-and-a-half years we had a really good cooperation and I am sure we will have the same cooperation in the coming season.”
قرار|— AL NASR FC (@ALNasrSC) January 19, 2018
شركة النصر لكرة القدم تُعلن تعيين الصربي إيفان يوفانوفيتش مُديراً فنياً للفريق الأول لكرة القدم خلفاً للإيطالي تشيزاري برانديلي. pic.twitter.com/G1VuwWa3kP
Jovanovic represented a coup for Nasr when he was originally hired in June 2013 thanks to leading Cypriot minnows APOEL to the quarter-finals of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League.
In Dubai, he had joy in the Cups but never finished higher than fourth in the Arabian Gulf League.
His final months there were tumultuous. A forged passport scandal with new striker Wanderley scuppered a campaign which once promised a historic berth in the 2016 AFC CL’s semi-finals, a 5-1 thrashing at Al Wahda – their seventh reversal in 11 matches – proving terminal to his job prospects.
He has since been linked to – the now merged – Al Shabab, Al Ain and Sharjah. Despite a sorry finale at Nasr, Jovanovic reveals the strength of his connection there made a comeback inevitable once contacted.
He said: “When I left, I left as a friend. It is the only club that any time it invited me to come back, I’d come back.
“If I take over a club, I take over the whole responsibility.”
Caretaker boss Ali Murad is set to oversee Wednesday’s trip to Year of Zayed Arabian Gulf Super Cup winners Wahda.
Nasr are currently a distant sixth in the top flight. Last Wednesday’s round-of-16 elimination in the President’s Cup against lowly Dibba Al Fujairah saw Prandelli dismissed, but they are in next month’s AG Cup quarter-finals – where they meet rivals Al Wasl.
Turning a relegation scrap into President’s Cup glory, winning just a second-ever Arabian Gulf League title in record fashion and then bloodying the nose of European icons Real Madrid on home soil at the Club World Cup.
These landmark achievements during two years at the helm should mean support is not in short supply for Henk ten Cate, unquestionably the finest coach in Al Jazira’s history. Instead, his triumphs have been ‘rewarded’ with the institutional disorder laid bare in the wake of Saturday’s 2-0 reversal to Al Wahda in the Year of Zayed Arabian Gulf Super Cup.
This “serious situation” is “breaking the team in two”, unspoken things “beyond my reach” forcing him to “have a good talk about my future”. It is easy to misconstrue those words as coming from a moment of forlorn weakness, yet this does disservice to Ten Cate’s wide experience and wiles.
At 63 years old and with 18 posts held in eight different countries, he knew what he was doing. A reaction from the board is guaranteed after incendiary remarks that can be summarised as saying: ‘make the Pride of Abu Dhabi worthy of the nickname, or I’m walking.’
It is now up to the leadership to decide whether a return to the chaos that has defined their club for much of its existence is more desirable – or attainable – than acquiescing to Ten Cate’s demands.
Between Abel Braga’s top-flight success of 2010/11 and the current incumbent’s surge to the same trophy in 2016/17, Jazira were often the laughing stock.
Diminishing results under Franky Vercauteren, Caio Junior, Walter Zenga, Eric Gerets and a miserable return for Braga were experienced. An expensively financed four-player foreign quota received equally capricious treatment, most alarmingly choosing to discard Manuel Lanzini on loan to West Ham United in July 2015 for a set permanent fee of just £9 million (Dh51.1m) which proved a snip as the Argentine playmaker excelled in the Premier League.
Grumbles from Ten Cate have been apparent throughout a ramshackle title defence. Ex-France defensive midfielder Lassana Diarra and coveted UAE striker Ahmed Khalil lasted six months or less at their new side before contract disputes forced free transfers.
With neither available for the CWC, the run to the semi-final and late, 2-1 loss to Madrid is the most remarkable result recorded in UAE club football.
Jazira are playing a dangerous game. Only last April, Ten Cate turned down the Netherlands job because the “whole organisation” was not behind him.
You should not toy with a man of principle.