From the wreckage of the UAE’s Asian Cup campaign, a new direction must be sought in the coming weeks.
Chief among this will be selecting the coach to replace Alberto Zaccheroni after a run to the semi-finals that still left a sense of dissatisfaction.
Here are Sport360°’s five possible candidates that the UAE Football Association should consider:
BERT VAN MARWIJK
If Van Marwijk has another World Cup cycle within him, he’d be the ideal candidate. Saudi Arabia were transformed under him, ending a 12-year exile from the global event. But his spiky character saw him leave before the competition, where he underwhelmed with Australia. Iran also want the World Cup 2010 finalist with the Netherlands, showing his qualities.
Renard is a master of the international arena. The consummately suave Frenchman led unfancied Zambia to the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, plus returned Morocco to the World Cup after 20 years away. Compensation will be high to extract the CAF Coach of the Year from the Atlas Lions, but if the UAE are serious about making World Cup 2022 he’s a solid gamble.
HENK TEN CATE
Employer: Al Wahda
The Al Jazira icon has made no secret of a desire to lead the Whites to success. Ten Cate has a proven track record working with the likes of Ali Mabkhout, plus gave prominence to emerging youngsters such as Khalifa Al Hammadi. A lack of international experience does count against the ex-Barcelona assist, who turned down his native Netherlands in 2017.
JUAN ANTONIO PIZZI
A rollercoaster tenure – they usually are with the Saudis – ended in disappointment in the Asian Cup’s round of 16. But this should not detract from trophy winning ex-Chile boss’ successful implementation of a concise, Spanish style of play. Also showed remarkable powers of recovery after the opening hammering by Russia at World Cup 2018. Will he want to work in the Middle East again, however, at a lesser nation? Also isn’t tactically varied.
Rampant rumour at the Asian Cup saw the ex-Al Ain man lined up as a mid-tournament replacement for Zaccheroni. This talk proved fanciful – and a permanent return to the UAE also requires a stretch of imagination. Dalic’s stock is sky high after he guided Croatia to World Cup 2018’s final. But he holds an enormous affection for the Emirates. Could this pull bring him back?
Al Ain caretaker Zeljko Sopic still wanted to “thank my players for everything”, despite a frustrating scoreless debut against Emirates Club.
Tumult surrounded the Boss ahead of Tuesday’s resumption in the Arabian Gulf League after the winter break. Coach Zoran Mamic suddenly departed for Saudi Professional League giants Al Hilal last week, while Sweden No9 Marcus Berg was banned for the visit to Hazza bin Zayed Stadium of second-bottom opponents.
The champions laid siege to the Falcons’ goal, with new boy Ruben Ribeiro – the replacement for Egpyt midfielder Hussein El Shahat following his $5 million sale to Al Ahly – going closest when his low effort was cleared off the line by Saad Al Yassi. This result saw a five-point gap open up to unbeaten leaders Sharjah.
“They [the players] gave a good return and gave my team several real opportunities to score and we were close to scoring three goals, but we missed the deciding factor,” said the usual Under-23s coach.
“I would like to thank my players for everything they have done.”
Al Ain play their game in hand on Sunday against Al Wahda, in a hotly anticipated derby.
They are yet to confirm whether a permanent successor will be in situ for the clash.
Ex-Belgium and Ivory Coast coach Marc Wilmots has been linked to the post. But chairman Ghanim Al Hajeri on Wednesday dismissed this rumour.
He tweeted: “The name [Wilmots] that was traded in the media with the exclusive news logo is surprising and untrue.
“In response to the most frequently asked questions, I confirm that Al Ain did not negotiate with any Belgian coach.
“There are two instructors from two different school. We trust in their abilities to contribute to the realisation of Al Ain’s local and Asian ambitions.”
Former Portugal midfielder Paulo Sousa and ex-Inter Milan boss Andrea Stramaccioni have also been highlighted as possible options in Italian media.
Meanwhile, the Henk ten Cate-era received the seal of approval after a rapier top-flight beginning at Ittihad Kalba.
A quartet of first-half goals helped secure an eventual 4-2 victory for Al Wahda. Tanzanian/Emirati forward Yahya Al Ghassani was given his first AGL start in the clash and the 20-year-old seemed thrilled by the club’s new dawn after a faltering first half of the campaign under Laurentiu Reghecampf.
“We have forgotten the past,” Al Ghassani told Dubai Sports. “The presence of the new coach [Ten Cate] gave us motivation and we understood his tactics well.”
A favourable return to action after the winter break continued on Tuesday for unbeaten Arabian Gulf League leaders Sharjah as they mounted a dramatic late recovery job to defeat Al Dhafra 2-1 thanks to a debutant’s clincher, before champions Al Ain began life minus coach Zoran Mamic with a goalless draw with lowly Emirates Club.
The King came into Tuesday’s action buoyed by second-placed Al Jazira’s harmful 1-0 home loss to Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club 24 hours prior, upon the top flight’s resumption.
This feel-good factor, however, threatened to dissipate within the first 10 minutes at Khalid bin Mohamed Stadium when Al Wahda loanee Abdallah El Refaey planted a powerful header past goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani.
The hosts quickly laid siege to the Western Knights goal, but could not find a way through until Brazilian playmaker Igor Coronado slotted in a 78th-minute penalty kick for an eighth goal of a productive debut campaign.
This entertaining comeback was then completed in the 89th minute when Moatasem Yassin marked his top-flight bow with a decisive rebound from Brazilian striker Welliton’s shot.
This rousing finale helped secured a five-point overnight lead thanks to the Boss’ surprise misstep.
Less than a week since Mamic’s shock defection to Saudi Professional League heavyweights Al Hilal, caretaker Zeljko Sopic oversaw an agonising 0-0 stalemate with second-bottom Emirates.
A succession of chances went begging, including from new boy Ruben Ribeiro – drafted in as replacement for the sold Hussein El Shahat.
Elsewhere, four first-half goals handed Henk ten Cate a winning start as Al Wahda coach at Ittihad Kalba.
Leonardo (penalty), Sebastian Tagliabue, Sultan Al Ghaferi and Mourad Batna (penalty) all netted in a 4-2 triumph. Myke Ramos got a brace as consolation.