Nostalgia is a wonderful thing.
Sepia-tinged memories of the UAE’s landmark run-outs at World Cup 1990 have been, vividly, brought back to life by this week’s 30th anniversary.
A special time – and one that, painfully, hasn’t been repeated in the subsequent decades.
Sentimentality, however, does not have to be a one-way street. Recollections about a glorious past can be channelled into a catalysing force for present change.
This is the juncture the Whites currently find themselves in as they seek a fifth manager in three, fitful, years. Thoughts about their heroes of Italia ‘90 must shape this looming – and critical – decision if a hallowed berth at World Cup 2022 can be salvaged.
The proud tones of Ishy Bilady (‘Long Live my Country’) filling the air at an expectant Stadio Renato Dall’Ara in Bologna. A nation’s finest lined up for the first time on a global stage in the debut 2-0 defeat to an electric Colombia side flavoured by the joyful talents of Rene Higuita, Carlos Valderrama and Freddie Rincon.
Versatile Al Nasr midfielder Khalid Ismail striking his country’s opening goal at the global tournament in a 5-1 loss to eventual champions West Germany. Sharjah attacker Ali Thani producing his wonderful headed effort in Group D’s final 4-1 defeat to Yugoslavia.
Achievements that, rightly, remain heralded until this day.
They also exemplify a standard that must be met by UAE Football Association decision makers if cherished repetition is to be, belatedly, achieved.
A four-man shortlist for the top coaching job in the Emirati game has been finalised. Overachieving Al Dhafra tactician Vuk Rasovic – and he could be a stalking horse at a stage when a final decision is expected this month – is reported to head it, in front of ex-Al Ain and Al Ahli talisman Cosmin Olaroiu, respected Spain Under-21 tactician Luis de la Fuente and an unnamed candidate.
Le10 Sport stated a recent refusal from France icon Laurent Blanc.
Rasovic’s record in the Middle East is outstanding. A trio of domestic cup final appearances (2017/18 King’s Cup at Saudi Arabia’s unfancied Al Faisaly, 2018/19 and – yet to be played – 2019/20 President’s Cup at Dhafra) is the headline statistic.
The ex-Yugoslavia defender’s successful application of a disciplined five-man defence is markedly rare in the region. This highlights an astute tactical brain and admirable ability to communicate.
A similar adherence to the defensive arts was found in Carlos Alberto Parreira; the man selected to lead the Whites in Italy.
The Brazilian retired with a record of leading five different national teams in five editions of the World Cup. This includes his country’s 1994 success.
The now 77-year-old is also the only manager to have led two different Asian teams to conquer the Asian Cup. Some legacy.
Mario Zagallo qualified the UAE. His legendary CV included becoming the first person to win it as a player (1958 and 1962) and manager (1970).
Rasovic is, in contrast, little known outside of the Balkans or Middle East.
The 2012/13 Serbian SuperLiga at Partizan Belgrade is his only trophy. Reputed contender Olaroiu has 14 in the Middle East, alone, plus is beloved by Emirati footballers.
Unfortunate predecessor Ivan Jovanovic – dismissed in April without playing a game – was a frequent winner at Nasr.
Rasovic also has zero exposure to international football. De la Fuente has lifted with Spain the 2015 European U-19 Championship and 2019 European U-21 Championship.
All three aforementioned coaches have their plusses. The right man must now be selected to rise to the benchmark set by 1990’s vintage.
Name recognition is, of course, not everything. Bert van Marwijk led the Netherlands to 2010’s final.
His December dismissal, though, saw him join a lengthy list of luminaries who’ve flattered to deceive in the Emirates.
These include fellow Dutchman Dick Advocaat, England bosses Don Revie and Roy Hodgson, future Real Madrid supremo Carlos Queiroz and AC Milan’s Scudetto winner Alberto Zaccheroni.
The question decision makers must ask themselves is whether Rasovic’s vision and record – modest in comparison to those above – is enough to see him repeat the unique achievement of Zagallo in guiding the UAE to a World Cup.
If not him, then a similarly exacting approach must be applied to Olaroiu, De la Fuente and whomever else comes into view.
When qualifying resumes in October, there is no room for mistakes. The UAE are fourth in the second round’s Group D, with a game in hand providing only solace in the knowledge that if they triumph in all four remaining fixtures they should advance to the third-and-final round.
Pride endures about the UAE’s role at World Cup 1990. Its glare still outshines that cast by 1996’s run to the Asian Cup final, 2007’s Gulf Cup triumph, admittance to London 2012 and successive continental semi-finals from 2015 and 2019.
This month’s bout of remembrance should not be fleeting. It must, instead, inform every step the UAE takes.