FA puts Mahdi Ali top of shortlist to be next UAE manager

FA president Yousuf Al Serkal plans to talk to negotiate with Olympic team coach once his side are finished with London 2012.

Mahdi Ali has impressed coaching the Under 19 and Olympic side. Julian Finney / Getty Images
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COVENTRY, ENGLAND // Mahdi Ali will become the first Emirati to coach the UAE senior national team, and before the end of the month, if the Football Association president has his way.

"We need to have a coach as soon as possible, and we are waiting for Mahdi to finish" the London 2012 Games with the UAE Olympic team, Yousuf Al Serkal told The National yesterday. "Our first choice will be to negotiate a contract with Mahdi."

Al Serkal said two other candidates, both of them expatriates, also are under consideration, but "Captain Mahdi" is his first choice.

The senior job has been held on an interim basis since September by Abdullah Misfir. He took over when Srecko Katanec, the Slovenian, was forced out after a dreadful start to the second-last qualifying round for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"We've had this in mind for quite some time, but we did not want to negotiate a contract before the start of the Olympic tournament," Al Serkal said. "We did not want to distract him and to interrupt his focus by negotiating until he was finished, and now he is nearly finished."

A former Al Ahli midfielder, Mahdi Ali has coached only on the age-group level, aside from his role as the caretaker coach at Baniyas for the final months of the 2010/11 Pro League season.

His age-group credentials are strong. He led the Under 23 team to London 2012, gaining the UAE's first berth in the Olympics by winning a group that included Australia and Uzbekistan.

The clinching victory was a 3-2 away win in Tashkent, one of the more prominent results in modern UAE football history.

He also led the U23s to the silver medal at the Asian Games in 2010, as well as to an U23 Gulf Cup title in the same year and the quarter-finals of the U20 World Championships in 2009.

The Olympic team play their final match of the Summer Games here tonight against Senegal.

The failure to escape the group stage did not dampen Al Serkal's enthusiasm to promote the Olympic coach to the senior side.

"The performance has been good," he said. "Less than what we expected, but our group has not been easy. I think we had good chances to win one of the past two games, but that's football."

He knows some Emiratis will wish they had hired a prominent foreign coach, as has been the practice throughout the FA's history. Earlier this year, the football pundit Kefah Al Kaabi called for "a big coach with a big brand name" to inspire respect and confidence among the Emirati players and public, and mentioned Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, as the type of coach the FA should pursue.

Al Serkal said: "This is normal. Some people will be satisfied with the decision and some won't; some will think our team deserves a famous name, someone with a big record."

He cautioned that the move is not yet official. He will make a recommendation to the FA board, which he believes will approve, and then negotiations will begin with the Dubai native.

"I haven't spoken to him directly, but if I was in his place I would take the job and be the first Emirati to be head coach of the first national team and take the adventure," Al Serkal said. "I wouldn't reject it if it were offered."

He added: "He has a good history with the federation, a good result with this team and there is a good relationship between him and the players. Everything gives him the priority, and we would rather continue with him rather than to give a chance to someone else."

Mahdi Ali, 47, would be inheriting a side ranked No 116 in the world, one that has struggled on the international stage since the 2011 Asian Cup, when the Emiratis went out in three games without scoring a goal.

Most of the senior team that will aim for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia, and the 2018 World Cup in Russia, will come from the Olympic team. Seven of their number have already made their senior debuts.

"This is very important because Mahdi, he knows the quality of the players that he has. He's been with them for a long time," Al Serkal said.

"He knows what other players from the first national team can be added to the squad.

"I think Mahdi has more knowledge than any other coach who would come from abroad, and this would give us a chance to shorten the time to make a good national team in the near future."

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