For the past three years Al Jazira’s goalkeeping coach, Manuel Almunia has been passing on his expertise and knowledge he picked up during an impressive career playing at the very top in England.
The 41-year-old Spaniard has helped improve the goalkeeping performances at the club but believes this is down to the talent and determination of the players to improve every day.
Almunia knows exactly what is required to succeed as a goalkeeper having represented Arsenal and other clubs in Spain during his 19-year playing career. Now under his guidance, Ali Khaseif, Adel Abubakr and Abdulrahman Al Ameri have all shown remarkable progress in between the goalposts.
“When I arrived at Al Jazira, I found the goalkeeping quality much better than I expected,” said Almunia. “They are all very good goalkeepers with an excellent mentality, but more importantly they have improved a lot in terms of technique.”
For instance, Khaseif, who has made more than 200 appearances, has become an integral figure, leading by example as club captain. Even when he is injured or rested, Al Jazira have plenty of quality cover with Al Ameri and Abubakr showing great promise.
“Ali Khaseif is a big name player for club and country who is very experienced,” said Almunia. “More importantly he values the work that I am doing and encourages the other goalkeepers to do the things that would benefit them.
“That bodes well because Al Jazira have a great depth of talent in their squad. At just 20, Al Ameri can be a future number one goalkeeper of Al Jazira. Technically, he is very good and is physically powerful. His mentality has improved so much that he is now also starting to show leadership skills.”
He added: “I admire Abubakr’s work ethic because he always gives 100 per cent in every single training session. He appreciates the work that I do with him and has everything to be an excellent goalkeeper.”
For his goalkeepers to be at their sharpest, Almunia has a clear training programme in place that sees them work on drills on the pitch and in the gym.
“The first principle is that all goalkeepers must train with intensity,” he added. “Preparing them on what could happen during matches is key so they will do a lot of work on their legs and upper body, and speed and reaction exercises. They will then work on their crossing and handling skills inside the box. These are all exercises I consider important in developing the players.”
When Almunia retired in 2014, coaching was never on the horizon. But he is enjoying his role and is thankful to Al Jazira for giving him his first steps in professional coaching.
“I didn’t want to do anything to do with football after retiring,” he admitted. “After one year where I did nothing I asked myself ‘what shall I do in my life?’. I started to coach young kids as a favour back home in Spain. I then started to like coaching and now it’s something that I love. I don’t have any personal goals but just to see the Al Jazira goalkeepers happy. When they hug me, that is the best reward because it shows they are improving which benefits the whole team.”
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