Al Wahda have opted for double Dutch in more ways than one by appointing Maurice Steijn as their new coach, replacing Henk ten Cate.
The 45-year-old Hague-born Steijn was officially unveiled as the Clarets’ new manager on Monday, taking over from celebrated compatriot Ten Cate. The veteran Dutchman led the Abu Dhabi club to a third-placed Arabian Gulf League finish last term, as well as the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League for the first time in 12 years during a brief but highly successful five months in charge after taking over from Laurentiu Reghecampf in December.
Steijn, 45, is almost two decades younger than the 64-year-old former Ajax boss Ten Cate. Even so, he admits a “special” relationship with his former manager led him to the Al Nahyan hotseat, while he also hopes to lean on the ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant for advice during the coming season.
“I was looking for a new challenge outside of Holland and this was a very beautiful opportunity with Al Wahda,” said Steijn during a press conference to announce his arrival held in the capital yesterday.
“I was contracted for two more years in Holland, but I wanted to make the next step.
“Mr Ten Cate called me two months ago. He was very positive about the club and I know the club want to work the same way as he did in the last five months, which was very successful for him.
“We talked about the club, the people, the way of playing. I know the people here like the Holland school.
“He only told me very good and positive things.”
Asked if Ten Cate – who coached Steijn at NAC Breda during the 2000/01 campaign – would be available to offer any advice during 2019/20, the former midfielder said he had always leaned on the advice of more experienced compatriots.
Despite his age, Steijn already has nearly a decade’s worth of experience coaching ADO Den Haag and VVV-Venlo in his homeland, taking over Den Haag aged just 37 in June 2011.
“I have always had a good relationship with Mr Ten Cate,” added Steijn.
“I was his player and he was following me the last 15 years as a coach. He prepared me for this role.
“I was a coach for the first time in Holland 10 years ago so I was a very young head coach.
“There were a lot of experienced coaches like (Dick) Advocaat and Ten Cate (in Holland). I would always talk with them about players, situations, everything, for me to be more experienced.
“That’s how you become a better coach, so I will be speaking to him this year.”
Unlike most new managerial appointments, Steijn is not entering a sedate, pre-season environment in which players will leisurely be limbering back up to peak condition.
Wahda are in ACL action against Saudi Professional League champions Al Nassr, travelling to Riyadh for August 6’s first leg of their round-of-16 tie. They then host them in Abu Dhabi a week later.
It is the first time the Clarets have featured in the continental showpiece’s latter stages since reaching the semi-finals in 2007, and Steijn is wasting no time in getting himself and his players prepared.
They were flying out to the Netherlands for a three-and-a-half week training camp on Monday night, he only arrived in the Emirates on Sunday, where they will play five friendly matches before returning home at the end of July, where they will play a final warm-up game.
“I know the difficulty of the programme, we have to play strong opponents, but it’s also a challenge,” added Steijn.
“Three-and-a-half weeks in Holland and 10 days here. The players are physically OK and we have five weeks to prepare them.
“I think we will be ready to play those games and I hope we will be successful but the most important thing is the players are fit, we have to develop our way of playing, we have to be together.
“I hope we will be ready because they are very important games for the club and the players. I’m looking forward to working with everybody in the club.
“It’s a very special day for me and I’m happy to be here. It’s the first time in 10 years for me coaching outside Holland and now I’m in Abu Dhabi. I want to thank the chairman and everybody in the club for the warm welcome, it feels like a family here.”
Steijn will have veteran Argentine striker and last year’s AGL top scorer Sebastian Tagliabue to call upon this season, while he will also be hoping the club retain Brazilian sensation Leonardo.
The future of wonderkid Yahya Al Ghassani remains uncertain as he is said to be in talks with two unnamed Bundesliga clubs, as well as the Premier League’s Burnley. The club announced versatile South Korea defender Rim Chang-woo signed a one-year contract extension this week.
Wahda also unveiled a trio of new signings alongside Steijn at Al Nahyan Stadium. Uruguayan centre midfielder Nicolas Milesi, 26, joins on a season-long loan deal from fellow AGL side Al Dhafra.
Also arriving on a 12-month loan deal is 27-year-old winger Al Hussain Saleh, from Al Nasr. They are joined by Brazilian teenager Dudu, an 18-year-old whose full names is Eduardo Voltan da Silva, who joins from Sao Paulo’s Esporte Clube Sao Bernardo.
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Al Wahda have urged coveted attacker Yahya Al Ghassani to continue his development with the Abu Dhabi giants in the midst of talk linking him with a historic permanent move to Europe.
News broke over the weekend that several clubs are in negotiations with the Clarets regarding the exciting 21-year-old winger, with two unnamed teams in the Bundesliga and Premier League side Burnley cited as being in the running.
“It’s too early (to talk about a transfer). So far he’s our player,” said Wahda chairman Ahmed Al Rumaithi, speaking at a press conference in the capital on Monday to announce the signing of new coach Maurice Steijn – who takes over from fellow Dutchman Henk ten Cate.
“We have seen things in the media. Sometimes football agents make inappropriate statements to the media.
“I want to talk in general about Yahya and all the young players. They need to keep focusing on their level and the matches in our league here.
“Yahya didn’t play a lot of matches with this club. He still has two to three years to prove himself and then we can talk about playing outside (the UAE).
“Yahya or any other youngsters in the club should complete three to four years playing in the top flight before thinking of playing in Europe. Yahya has played just one season and that’s not ideal.”
Al Ghassani, born to an Emirati mother and a father who holds Tanzanian and Omani passports, joined Wahda at the beginning of last season on a one-year deal and instantly impressed.
He netted a debut goal in a 6-2 thrashing of Ittihad Kalba on the opening day of the Arabian Gulf League season on August 31 and scored again in his third game – a 3-0 Arabian Gulf Cup triumph over Al Wasl. This led to him signing a lucrative contract until 2023.
He went on to make 24 appearances in total, scoring four goals, during what turned out to be an injury-plagued second half of the campaign, limiting him to just seven matches in 2019.
As well as ex-ADO Den Haag and VVV-Venlo boss Steijn, Wahda also unveiled a trio of new signings. These included Uruguayan centre midfielder Nicolas Milesi, 26, who joins on a season-long loan deal from fellow AGL side Al Dhafra.
Also arriving on a 12-month loan deal is 27-year-old winger Al Hussain Saleh, from Al Nasr. They are joined by Brazilian teenager Eduardo Voltan da Silva – an 18-year-old known as ‘Dudu’ – who joins from Sao Paulo’s Esporte Clube Sao Bernardo.
Steijn will immediately begin work for the season ahead, with Wahda facing a stern test in the round-of-16 of the AFC Champions League against champions of Saudi Arabia, Al Nassr.
The Clarets travel to Riyadh for the first leg on Tuesday, August 6, before hosting the second a week later at Al Nahyan Stadium. Steijn and his side were headed to the Netherlands on Monday night for a three and-a-half week training camp, and the 45-year-old refused to be drawn on Al Ghassani’s future.
“Let’s see in the camp about every player,” Steijn said when asked if he is looking to keep hold of the youngster.
“I don’t speak about players in particular, on this day. First I want to meet all the players, I met my staff yesterday to say hello. I want to talk with all those guys in private in Holland and then after three-and-a-half weeks I will know everything about the players.
“I don’t want to talk about players particularly now, but we have all the time.”
When the UAE national team begins next month’s training camp in Austria to kick off their preparations for the 2022 World Cup qualification, Al Jazira will be well represented by seven first-team players.
Record-breaking striker Ali Mabkhout and promising defender Khalifa Al Hammadi are two of the players included in the 27-man list following their impressive individual displays during the 2018/19 season.
Mabkhout’s 20-goal tally saw him finish second in the Arabian Gulf League’s scoring charts, while Al Hammadi built on his breakthrough season to establish himself as a first-team starter with 25 appearances.
The pair will be joined in Salzburg by Jazira team-mates Ali Khaseif, Mohamed Al Attas, Salim Rashid, Khalfan Mubarak and Zayed Al Ameri.
Jazira’s academy has been integral for nurturing and developing their players for many years and Mabkhout and Al Hammadi, who came through the ranks, being called up to the national team is a testament to the club’s coaching philosophy.
Before their dreams became a reality, Mabkhout and Al Hammadi put in the hours on the training pitches under the guidance of the academy coaches and haven’t looked back since making their first-team debuts.
With Mabkhout at the peak of his career aged 28 and Al Hammadi showing great promise as a 20-year-old, both stars have credited the academy model for their careers to date.
“Since joining the academy, I have always had the ambition of playing in the highest level,” said Mabkhout, who has struck 133 league goals to date since making his debut as an 18-year-old.
“At the same time, I wanted to achieve the goal of playing for Al Jazira’s first-team and the UAE national team and am happy to have reached those objectives.”
He added: “I have always been grateful to Al Jazira’s academy as they develop the technical aspects while also educating players on the importance of mentality and nutrition. With regular coaching and my desire to improve meant that when I was picked for the first-team, I was fully prepared for what to expect as a professional footballer.
“The club also gives opportunities for youngsters to train with first-team stars and this certainly helps them to adapt quickly. With the number of players that have come through in recent years, the club has shown there is a bright future.”
🎥 جميع مواجهات فخر ابوظبي في دوري الخليج العربي لموسم 2019 / 2020 pic.twitter.com/pr1dx6tc3G— نادي الجزيرة (@AlJazira_uae) June 21, 2019
With Al Hammadi making his debut as an 18-year-old, his first-team career also saw him join Mabkhout in the UAE squad for January’s 2019 Asian Cup.
“I have really developed as a player last season as I established myself in the first-team and represented my country at the Asian Cup which was a proud moment for me,” said Al Hammadi.
“It’s been a great learning curve so far and I feel the club academy has helped me a lot to what I have achieved today.
“I joined the academy when I was seven-years-old and realised that I had to work very hard if I wanted to reach the top. The academy has a clear pathway in place for those who want to be professionals.”
He added: “It wasn’t just about football as outside the training, we also had regular schoolwork during the day. This meant we would sometimes have long days from 7am to 8pm but it was a great learning experience.
“We also learnt the importance of nutrition and as a youngster, I found that was a big change but it has helped me be the player that I am today.”