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.”
Coach Juan Carlos Garrido will demand another show of unity at divided Al Ain when Rui Faria’s Al Duhail visit for a must-win 2019 AFC Champions League clash.
The troubled Boss sit bottom of a demanding Group C, although a limp campaign gained fresh impetus a fortnight ago at the same opponent when a 2-2 draw was salvaged from two goals down.
BAD VIBES AT THE BOSS
To say the interim period between continental dates has been eventful for Al Ain would be an almighty understatement.
In chronological order, the UAE’s most-decorated club have; produced a record-breaking 4-0 home defeat to mid-table Ajman, a heroic 2-2 draw at unbeaten Arabian Gulf League leaders Sharjah with a youthful side and issued internal bans for forwards Caio and Ruben Ribeiro for their Instagram “clown” jibes at Garrido. Keeping up?
The ex-Villarreal supremo must utilise all his experience to notch a first ACL win against venerable opposition. No small task.
KIDS ARE ALRIGHT?
Garrido has been publicly backed by the 2002/03 winners’ board, despite mutinous sections of the squad holding a contemptuous view of Zoran Mamic’s February replacement.
This war will soon be lost, however, if a four-match winless run is extended on Tuesday at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. Selection is key.
Ex-Sporting Lisbon playmaker Ribeiro was not registered for the ACL, so Mali marauder Tongo Doumbia comes in. An easy call.
Does Garrido now stick with kids like unheralded full-back Ali Mohammed who shone at Sharjah, or recall heavyweights like Sweden striker Marcus Berg?
Getting the blend right is essential – and awkward.
DUHAIL’S SHOCK DOWNTURN
Qatar forward Almoez Ali’s historic exploits at Asian Cup 2019, Faria’s January call to take a first managerial post plus the big-money additions of Morocco centre-back Mehdi Benatia and Japan playmaker Shoya Nakajima made Duhail, ostensibly, a team to fear.
Reality, however, has been different. A dreary 3-4-3 formation, painful concession of the Qatar Stars League crown to Xavi’s Al Sadd and a mixed ACL start has followed.
Make no mistake, second-placed Duhail require a result just like Al Ain. An intriguing clash awaits.
Grateful Al Wahda boss Henk ten Cate is convinced ultimate predator Sebastian Tagliabue’s ability to net “anytime and anyplace” can fire his club past Qatar’s Al Rayyan and onto the cusp of a first knockout-stage run in the AFC Champions League for more than a decade.
A valuable come-from-behind 2-1 triumph last time out at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium – dramatically earned by Brazilian forward Leonardo in second-half injury time – against the same opponent propelled the Clarets top of Group B at the halfway stage.
Key to renewed hope of advancing for the first time since 2007’s charge into the semi-finals is their aforementioned Argentine striker. The evergreen 33-year-old has 21 goals in 21 Arabian Gulf League matches this term, netted the leveller in Doha a fortnight ago and struck in November 2017’s 5-1 rout when the clubs last met in the capital.
“We have the best players in the front line and we have Tigali [Tagliabue’s nickname] who can score anytime and anyplace with the smallest of chances,” said Ten Cate, whose charges sit fifth in the UAE’s top flight. “I feel very confident that we will play a good game.”
Rayyan finished a distant fourth in the Qatar Stars League after a turbulent campaign. Avoiding defeat in Abu Dhabi is now a must for Group B’s third-placed side.
“Al Rayyan is a good team and they have a great team of players,” said Ten Cate.
“For them, this is the last chance to come back to compete in this group, and for us it is a great opportunity to take another step towards qualifying.”
Rayyan’s Venezuela centre forward Gelmin Rivas scored 13 times from 26 matches in a solitary AGL season at Sharjah in 2016/17.