After almost half a century entrenched in his first love, Henk ten Cate is 100 per cent certain he is now officially retired from football. Well, perhaps not quite 100 per cent.
The 63-year-old will now spend his time with his wife and two daughters. And having walked out of Al Jazira, his 16th and perhaps final managerial appointment last week, Ten Cate said he is keen to be around to watch his grandson’s first footsteps into the game.
However, despite spending 25 of his 47 years in football as a player and manager living away from his homeland and his family, the Dutchman admits that his deep love of the game means even he is not absolutely certain a successful two-and-a-half-year swansong in the sunshine is the end.
“In life you can never say never,” he says, smiling. “As I’m sitting here now it’s (Jazira) my last job in football, this is it. I’ve spent 47 years of my life in football and that’s a lot, I think it’s enough.”
Even if Ten Cate was planning on a quiet retirement, it becomes abundantly clear when spending a few minutes with him on his final night in Abu Dhabi that he won’t get it.
His phone hums and bleeps constantly throughout an evening spent with him in a capital city café. Three hours pass in a flash as he reminisces about his years spent in charge of Dutch giants Ajax, his time working under Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona and Avram Grant at Chelsea.
He speaks passionately about legendary figures of the game – “game changers” like Rinus Michels, Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Arrigo Sacchi, Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola.
He is also saddened by the recent ill health that has struck down Sir Alex Ferguson.
Many of the calls and texts that permeate our chat are from Abu Dhabi giants Jazira – board members and staff still cajoling him to sign a new deal, having led the club through its most successful period.
An international call comes in. It’s from Egypt. Al Ahly, the country’s biggest club, want Ten Cate to replace Hossam El Badry, sacked a day earlier.
His reply: “No I am not interested, sorry sir. I’ve finished my career and I’m going home now. I’ve been a long time abroad so I plan to take my rest. Thank you for the offer.”
The hulking but humorous Ten Cate may not be able to resist such overtures if they come from a bigger name, however.
“I love the game. I love this game so much since I was a kid. The only toy I had until I was 14 was a ball – until I started discovering girls.
“I can look back on a very nice career. Of course with ups and downs, but more ups than downs. I worked at the top of the league and with the very best in the world. I’ve worked with the worst too but the love for football kept me going.
“I still have it but I also realise it’s about time. I still have my mother, she’s in good health at 84 and the last couple of months I was thinking ‘how long do I still have her for’. All those thoughts made me make this decision.
“I may be tempted sometimes (to return to management), who knows if I will not get itchy feet in a few months’ time.”
If it is indeed to be the end of the road for Ten Cate, his journey culminates in what some critics will view as football’s outback.
His final stand in the UAE desert may seem apt to some people who are staunch advocates of the game’s heartland in Europe, critical of less chartered territories.
But Ten Cate cherishes his time in the Middle East among such highs as his two major trophies won with Ajax and a three-year stint with Rijkaard at the Camp Nou, during which the duo helped shape the modern-day version of the club – a team that “was not only successful but also thrilled the world”.
It has been 30 months that will live long in the memory of Jazira’s fans and everyone associated with the club. A brief tenure that re-installed the pride back into the Pride of Abu Dhabi.
Ten Cate will now go down as the club’s greatest coach – having led them to the safety of mid-table during his first six months in charge, as well as finishing 2015/16 on a high by lifting the President’s Cup in thrilling style, a penalty shootout win against famous foes, Al Ain.
The AGL title was lifted a year later, while last December Jazira unbelievably went toe-to-toe with European heavyweights Real Madrid – even having the audacity to take the lead against Los Blancos before a late fightback saw Jazira beaten 2-1 and Real secure a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup final.
“Ajax was difficult, they’re a difficult club to manage. All eyes are on you in Holland because of the history and size of the club,” he added.
“Barcelona with Frank Rijkaard was also something special, because we managed to create out of nothing something. Making a team together, which was not only successful but also thrilled the world.”
His greatest feat at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium will be his bold decision to give a talented crop of youngsters their chance in the first team.
Ali Mabkhout and Mbark Boussoufa have been the stars of his reign. But the development of players like Khalfan Mubarak, Ahmed Al Attas, Mohamed Jamal, Salem Al Eedi and emergence of youngsters Mohammed Al Attas, Khalifa Al Hammadi and Zayed Al Ameri will be his legacy – even if he plays down the use of that word.
“A legacy is big. I don’t want to compare myself to a legend who left a legacy,” he said.
“But if there’s one thing I’m proud of it’s bringing through the young players. Youngsters don’t often get the chance because foreign coaches are here to win, not to build. I think that building and winning can go together. It’s how I have always worked.”
As a lover of the game, Ten Cate admitted it was “devastating” to hear of Red Devils icon Ferguson’s recent health scare.
“When I was at Ajax and Panathinaikos I went to some coaching seminars and met him. He’s a very nice guy. It’s terrible news what happened to him,” said Ten Cate, who admits the 76-year-old Ferguson’s situation is a reminder of what cost success comes at.
“The job he did, his lifetime’s career is a stressful one. I have white hair, it used to be black. This job costs a lot. It asks a lot from your body and your mind.
“I heard his first words when he woke up were how Doncaster Rovers (Ferguson’s son Darren’s team) did, this is typically him.
“This is a football animal. He lives it. He was born football and he will die football, hopefully not for a long time. He is the game. He’s one of a kind, a legend of football.”
The two tattoos, one on the left calf of Neymar Jr. and the other on the right forearm of Gabriel Jesus, are striking, similar and significant.
They depict a young Brazilian with a football under his arm, looking up at a Sao Paulo favela and dreaming big.
Both Neymar and Jesus were those boys – and subsequently blessed with the ability and desire to make success a reality.
At 25, Neymar has now established himself among football’s biggest and best, to the extent Paris Saint-Germain paid a world record £200 million to lure him away from Barcelona last summer and he came third in the 2017 Ballon D’Or.
Jesus, five years younger, may only be just embarking on his quest to win major trophies with Manchester City, but has been widely tipped to emulate the feats of his compatriot and close friend in rising from the slums to superstardom.
It is something he wants too, but, despite being linked by ink, the frontman is eager to create his own fairytale.
“Each individual is different from one another,” Jesus tells Sport360. “He’s building his story, I’m building mine.
“Neymar deserves all the credit for everything he has accomplished and I’m always cheering for him.
“We’re close. When we’re playing together we’re always helping one another, and helping the national team, and maybe playing in the same club in the future.
“But I’m going to try to build my own story. We each have our own path, but I hope to conquer the things he’s been conquering.”
Driven by their childhood desire and bonded by brilliance, the pair’s relationship has blossomed on and off the field as they have lifted Brazil back to the top of international football.
Jesus, who has eight goals in 13 games since being handed the coveted No9 shirt for the Selecao in 2016, enjoys every opportunity to team up with Neymar.
“Not only myself, I think even the most experienced players learn from Neymar,” he adds.
“He’s a very positive guy. He’s a [grown] man, but at the same time I consider him a kid because he’s always smiling and joking around with everyone.
“I hope he keeps this attitude because it helps everyone and I keep learning from him more and more.”
Having been relatively unknown beyond his homeland where he inspired Palmeiras to a long-awaited Brazilian league title with 12 goals, his £27 million signing by City was deemed a gamble by some.
But that transfer fee now seems somewhat of a bargain after a stunning impact since his January arrival at the Etihad, scoring 15 times and assisting six goals in 24 Premier League appearances disrupted by a foot injury.
With a skill set and swagger that belied his teenage years, Jesus has become the rough diamond that has sparkled so brightly his value has soared substantially and brought plaudits from Brazil icons like Pele and Ronaldo, to whom he has been compared.
Neymar has revealed former Barca team-mate Lionel Messi is the most skillful player he has starred alongside, but added: “After that it’s Gabriel Jesus – he’s incredibly skillful.”
While he has had to fight for first-team starts with club record scorer Sergio Aguero in this campaign, Jesus, now 20, has still notched 10 times.
“Yes, this start of the season has been great for me, a dream,” says the frontman, whose amazing run of not losing a competitive match for either Brazil or City ended at 403 days with the 2-1 midweek Champions League defeat at Shakhtar Donetsk.
“I’ve been working really hard. When the coach and the team need me, I’m always available for them and hope to continue like this.”
With Aguero struggling in tough recent league games against Huddersfield, Southampton and West Ham, City boss Pep Guardiola could turn to Jesus to help unlock Manchester United’s defence in Sunday’s top-of-the-table clash at Old Trafford.
The 175th derby has already been dubbed a title decider as City could extend their lead to 11 points should they claim a 14th successive league win by overcoming their second-placed neighbours, who are unbeaten themselves in a record-equalling 40 home matches.
And Jesus is aware of the Manchester rivalry, evoking memories of a showdown between Brazil and arch-foes Argentina.
“A little bit, yes,” he adds. “I think Brazil-Argentina is a bigger rivalry because we’re talking about two national teams, two countries. But it’s not that distant, it’s similar, it’s a Clasico.
“It’s going to be a good match, a big match, between big players from big clubs.
“We’ll try to win because it’s very important. It’s also a head-to-head match with our positions in the table.
“So there’s the size of the match, but we have to be clear that we’re going there to try to win.
“I don’t believe United will play defensively because just like us, they need the result. If they play like they did against Arsenal [when they attacked], that will make it an open game and that will suit us.”
Free and fearless is how Jesus plays too and it is remarkable how quickly he has come to the footballing fore, having lived in that Jardim Peri favela until he was 16 and only making his professional debut two years ago.
The humble hero has also charted big moments in his life through tattoos.
Some are personal, such as ones honouring his mother, Vera Lucia, who has been the biggest influence on his life and career having raised him in a single-parent family.
Then there are the sporting achievements, with Rio 2016 and the Olympic rings symbolising an unforgettable appearance at the Games, where Jesus helped his nation strike gold on home soil with a penalty shoot-out win over Germany – two years after a 7-1 World Cup humbling by the same opponents.
And he’s ready to add to the artwork should more triumphs follow this season.
With City impressive in the league so far, already in the League Cup quarter finals and the last 16 of the Champions League, Brazil are also eyeing a sixth World Cup success at next year’s finals in Russia.
“Yes, I would add more,” he says with a laugh. “A Premier League tattoo, I would have to think about it.
“But if we win the World Cup I would definitely do a tattoo. And if I ever win the Champions League I would also do one.”
With City and Brazil looking good at the moment, there is every chance Jesus could be covering himself in more glory.
Anna Lyapunova is what you would describe as ‘scarily flexible’, but she has the grace and agility of a gazelle when performing one of her pole or hoop routines at Pole Fit Dubai.
The 31-year-old bagged the 2016 Pole Art Championship title in Cyprus and is now set to take the stage of the first Dubai Pole Cup and World Calisthenics Games to be held on December 8 and 9 at the World Trade Centre.
She sat down with Sport360° to talk about her journey so far and how she stays fit.
Tell us a bit about yourself ?
My name is Anna Lyapunova. I live in Dubai and I am an aerial arts instructor and a performer.
How did you get involved with aerial arts?
Ever since I was a little girl, I was involved in rhythmic gymnastics and then pursued it professionally for 10 years. I was awarded the title of “Master of Sports” in the Republic of Kazakhstan. However, afterwards I got involved in contemporary dancing and eventually found myself gravitating towards aerial arts, as it is a combination of the two things that I excel at, which is gymnastics and dancing.
One of my most recent and proudest achievements was winning the first prize at the 2016 International Pole Art Championship in Cyprus, in the category of semi-professionals.
What challenges did you face when transitioning from rhythmic gymnastics to the aerial arts?
Thankfully I can say haven’t faced too many challenges in my pursuit of gymnastics and aerial arts. I just have a very deep appreciation for my body and I know what it is capable of.
Since both of these disciplines have pretty much the same principles, it wasn’t hard for me at all. However, the only minor concern I had was that in professional gymnastics you are always taught to not show any strain or emotions on your face.
But dancing is a whole new ball game. You have to emote, not just with your body, but your face as well. So, I can say that I struggled a bit with showing my emotions in dancing and expressing myself through dancing.
Afterwards, I decided to give pole dancing and hoops a shot, and I just immediately fell in love with it.
People still seem to have a very negative perception of the aerial arts, what is your take on that?
I respect people’s opinions and I understand not everyone can have the same view on a subject. It is something they are entitled to, but I do believe that it is wrong to just write it off as something bad without at least giving it a shot themselves.
Aerial arts are definitely worth trying before one can jump to any conclusion about it. I am sure, most of the people would appreciate it as a great sport and may find it absolutely beautiful as well.
What do you think of the Dubai Pole Cup and how are you training for it?
It is the first competition for pole in Dubai and it is a very positive step forward, especially in this region. It shows that aerial arts are being accepted as a legitimate sport. I am training very hard for it and let’s see what happens.
I am obviously very excited to be part of this event and I am happy that people will be able to see my performance live, instead of just watching on the internet.
Your level of flexibility can be quite daunting for many, how do you maintain your immense physique?
Everyone can be flexible and it is only a matter of working out and stretching regularly. Sometimes people don’t realise how strong their bodies are and end up not working to their body’s full potential.
I stay in shape with daily workouts. I don’t stick to any diets, but I just try eat clean and healthy. Pole dancing also really changed my life and helped me find a great way to stay active. It has also helped me realise my talents as an artist, choreographer and as a coach.
What is your advice to women pursuing aerial arts?
Do not be afraid and be patient. Love yourself and believe in yourself. You cannot imagine what our bodies are capable of, and one can truly reach their fullest potential if they only try.