The UAE face a tough challenge once again to convince reluctant Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club coach Cosmin Olaroiu to lead them on home soil at the 2019 Asian Cup, following Edgardo Bauza’s shocking defection to Saudi Arabia late on Thursday night.
A surprise chain of events has led to tumultuous change in the Arabian Gulf. Enraged Dutchman Bert van Marwijk terminated talks about a contract renewal just a week since qualifying his adopted nation to World Cup 2018 after an epic fallout with the Saudi Football Federation about their reportedly unilateral decision to dismiss members of his coaching staff, plus a dogged reluctance to live in the Kingdom.
This astonishing development saw them move for Bauza. He took the UAE post in May on a one-a-half-year deal after his sacking by Argentina, with a press conference only held on Tuesday in which he mapped out the future alongside senior UAE Football Association officials in the wake of the disappointing failure to make 2018’s global tournament.
Without the knowledge of Van Marwijk, harmonious negotiations between the two governing bodies reached a swift conclusion that ensured El Paton’s spell in charge of the Whites has finished after three competitive games – June’s 1-1 draw in Thailand, plus this month’s 2-1 victory against the Saudis and 1-0 loss to Iraq. Into this vacuum, Olaroiu, 48, has emerged as the governing body’s overwhelming No1 pick.
ترسيخًا لمبدأ الوحدة الخليجية وتعزيز التعاون بين الاتحادين، وافق الإتحاد الإماراتي على طلب الاتحاد السعودي بالتعاقد مع المدرب إدغاردو باوزا pic.twitter.com/ms6PeGaZ1z
— uaefa (@uaefa_ae) September 14, 2017
He is held in the highest regard following stints with Al Ain and – the now defunct – Al Ahli which have seen 10 pieces of silverware lifted during six years in the Emirates.
Another advantage for Olaroiu is the deep links he has forged while successfully coaching the majority of the current UAE squad at various junctures. These include 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman, 2015 recipient Ahmed Khalil and key centre-back Ismail Ahmed.
He was shortlisted as a replacement for Mahdi Ali once he resigned in March, although a concentration on club commitments prevailed.
This stance looks to be repeated less than six months later.
سعادة خليفة سليمان رئيس اللجنة العليا للدمج يشهد ختام تحضيرات # شباب_الأهلي لمواجهة حتا في دوري الخليج العربي مساء اليوم pic.twitter.com/tfoLDdCyMG
— نادي شباب الأهلي دبي (@alahlicclub) September 15, 2017
Olaroiu currently holds no desire to manage another national team. A group-stage exit was incurred when on loan with the Saudis for the 2015 Asian Cup.
An intent to explore heading back to Europe when his reputed €6.5 million (Dh28.6m) per annum deal expires at Shabab Al Ahli next summer was also cited at the time.
Such figures appear far beyond the budget of the UAE. Bauza was contracted for just $4m a year.
Frustrations about an inability to complete any incoming transactions at his merged club are not currently large enough to force an exit.
One alternative target could be respected ex-Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka.
Shabab Al Ahli today kick-off their 2017/18 Arabian Gulf League commitments at home to Hatta.
The UAE women’s national football team was formed in 2009, which coincided with Abu Dhabi hosting the FIFA Club World Cup for the first time.
Since then, the women’s game has been receiving more and more support from the government, as well as Abu Dhabi Sports Council, to further develop it and its reach.
“Since the first Club World Cup more girls are opening up about the game and the society here are accepting the fact that women are playing football,” says UAE national team player Nouf Al Anzi.
Al Anzi has been on the team for several years, and is happy to be part of a group of young women changing perceptions regarding female participation in football here in the Emirates.
“Some people, when I tell them I play football they say ‘what? Girls, playing football?’ But we get support from our families and close friends. The sport wasn’t popular but now we can find opportunities to play so it’s good,” she told Sport360 two years ago in an interview.
The UAE national women’s team narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Asian Cup but the players remain hopeful in achieving great results in the future.
“Representing your country is something but actually wearing a shirt that has a badge, while playing and trying to achieve something, to be honest it’s such an honour to wear this shirt. I feel so proud. I hope my parents and family and the society I live in feel as proud as I feel,” says national team player Amal Wael.
The UAE women’s team is currently ranked 80 in the world according the FIFA rankings.
“With the support of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, the national team has a great opportunity that we have more girls coming to play football,” says team captain Noura Al Mazrouei.
Watch the video above (courtesy of Abu Dhabi Sports Council) to know more about the Emirati national football team.
Certainties are in short supply as the 2017/18 Arabian Gulf League kicks off this weekend after a summer of sweeping change.
The current tumult had its genesis last May. Surprise mergers of Al Shabab, Al Ahli and promoted Dubai CSC to create Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club plus Sharjah’s amalgamation with First Division League-neighbours Al Shaab brought an era of austerity glaringly into life.
Declining oil prices and shrinking largesse from owners has caught up with a once-free-spending competition, whose number has dropped from 14 to 12 teams for the first time since 2011/12. Allied with the UAE’s painful failure this month to make World Cup 2018 and the fact a two-year run of providing beaten AFC Champions League finalists is at an end, its competitors must battle a narrative of genuine regression for the first time since professionalism’s introduction in 2008/09.
This drive for self-sustainability has seen Al Ain’s ¤3 million (Dh12.3m) purchase of starting Sweden striker Marcus Berg from Panathinaikos the standout transaction. Quite the drop from Ahli’s ¤17m (Dh70m) capture of Senegal forward Moussa Sow from Fenerbahce two years ago.
The move from bull to bear market – Brazil playmaker Everton Ribeiro moving to Flamengo from Ahli and Sharjah cashing in on Al Hilal’s move for Venezuela centre forward Gelmin Rivas – adds an unpredictable edge. Whether this becomes a welcome switch in status will be decided by the quality of games on offer during the coming months.
— قناة أبوظبي الرياضية (@ADSportsTV) September 10, 2017
On the pitch, this slow-burning, transformative trend was evidenced last term by Henk ten Cate’s freewheeling Al Jazira breaking the interminable duopoly of Al Ain and – the now defunct – Ahli in revitalising style for the first time since their prior success in 2010/11. This latest triumph was earned with the most points (68) and wins (22) since the division turned professional.
Such enlivening statistics provide a ray of hope in troubled times.
After the adroit Pride of Abu Dhabi prepared for December’s Club World Cup on home soil by adding UAE forward Ahmed Khalil, ex-France anchorman Lassana Diarra, Uzbekistan winger Sardor Rashidov and Brazilian attacker Romarinho on free transfers, a new era of one-team dominance may await.
A long way back for the established powers beckons after shock second-placed finishers Al Wasl retained coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena and batted away interest from across the Arabian Gulf in brilliant Brazilian forward Fabio De Lima.
The new Shabab Al Ahli are yet to bring in a single player as trophy-hoarding boss Cosmin Olaroiu navigates troubled waters.
In Al Ain, 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman again resisted European overtures but there have been few other positives since boss Zoran Mamic’s February poaching from Al Nassr in Riyadh.
— قناة أبوظبي الرياضية (@ADSportsTV) September 8, 2017
Coaching changes dominate for President’s Cup holders Al Wahda and the team they defeated, Al Nasr. The Clarets welcome beaten 2014 ACL finalist Laurentiu Reghecampf, while Cesare Prandelli’s coaching career has slumped since leading Italy to Euro 2012’s showpiece.
Al Dhafra have banked on Iraq’s Mohannad Abdul-Raheem to replace the goals of Syria forward Omar Khrbin. In contrast, amalgamated Sharjah have left their foreign business ludicrously late – although Wednesday night’s deal for emerging Chile midfielder Cesar Pinares could be the window’s best.
At the bottom, an expected play-off because of the move back to 14 for 2018/19 makes the situations of promoted Ajman, Hatta, Dibba Al Fujairah and Emirates Club potentially less parlous.
But like everything else in this top flight adapting to a new reality, ironclad predictions remain folly until the action unfolds.