Paulo Bento vows 'no regrets' as he sets sights on Asian Cup and 2026 World Cup with UAE

Portuguese coach, who led South Korea at 2022 global finals, named UAE manager on Sunday

New UAE football team manager Paulo Bento at his official unveiling in Dubai on Sunday. UAE FA.
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New UAE manager Paulo Bento has vowed to have no regrets during his time with the national team, saying the most appropriate way to make fans happy is simply by winning matches.

The Portuguese, 54, was confirmed on Sunday as successor to Rodolfo Arruabarrena having signed a three-year contract with the Football Association.

Bento, who guided South Korea to the knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup, is charged with leading the UAE to a second appearance at a global finals – the 2026 event has been expanded to 48 teams – while the rescheduled 2023 Asian Cup will represent his first major tournament with his new team.

That kicks off on January 12 in Qatar. Qualification for the World Cup, meanwhile, begins this November.

Speaking at the FA’s headquarters in Dubai on Sunday, Bento was keen to draw a line under previous regimes, saying: “It will not be a good start if we start comparing this moment with the past, or with the recent past. It doesn’t make sense. It’s another project, another process.

“In my opinion, the most important is respect the past, take care of the present and prepare for the future. These are the three steps we should give and is the best way to show respect for all the people who worked in the federation before and tried to achieve their own goals and the goals of the federation. For us, the most important is the next step.

“I’m sure I will be happy here. I hope the people will be happy at the end of the process. And I’m sure I’m not going to regret anything after my experience here."

Bento, who also managed the Portugal national team from 2010 to 2014, had been without a job since stepping down as South Korea’s head coach in December following their elimination from the 2022 World Cup at the last-16 stage to Brazil – the country's first appearance in the knockout stages in 12 years.

Bento had been in charge from August 2018, guiding his team to success in the 2019 East Asian Football Federation E-1 Championship, and then through qualification for a 10th successive World Cup appearance. South Korea did lose their final qualifying match to the UAE, 1-0, in March last year.

Bento replaces in his new role Arruabarrena, whose contract through to the 2023 Asian Cup was not extended after the tournament was postponed until next January.

Semi-finalists in the past two editions, the UAE have been drawn in Group C alongside Iran, Hong Kong and Palestine for the January 12-February 10 tournament in Qatar.

“We are looking forward to start working to try to reach our goals,” Bento said. “We know that it will be a long process where we would like to reach stability for the team, [and] for the federation.

"But we want to be ambitious, of course; this is our goal. We know that we have a competition in January, then the World Cup in 2026. In the meantime, we have some periods to prepare the team for the first competition in January and then we will try to do our best, try to bring our experience.

"Now we start from the demands, the wish and the desire to make things as good as possible and try to achieve the goals altogether, building a good structure, a good team, and play as well as possible to reach our goals.”

Bento will oversee his first training camp with the UAE, in Europe, from July 29-August 10, with another get-together planned for September.

“We already know the team a little bit,” he said. “Not just because we played against the UAE during the last qualifier for the World Cup, but because we already observed the team recently: many, many games.

"Now we are going to keep observing the team and the players in a different context, the club context as well, in games from the last season and also some friendly games they will play.

“In the [first] training camp, we will try to bring and give to the team our ideas and start building a good team. A team that try to play as well as possible to reach the goals I told you before. This is the plan for now. After that we will have other moments, in September, October, November – November with the two official games.

“But all these moments will allow us to know better and better the players. All of them should make part of the preparation for the qualifiers to the World Cup as well as the preparation for the Asian Cup.”

On whether he would place at emphasis on selecting more experienced players or decide to significantly refresh the squad, Bento said: “For me, as a coach, it’s not important how old they are or how young they are. It’s important how they perform, the quality of the players.

“And the quality of the players means a lot of things. It doesn’t mean just the technical skills. It’s more than that. But the age is not important. The performance is important, and the behaviour, the attitude they show."

Bento added: “Usually, the way we have to make the people happy is winning, it’s the most appropriate way to do that. And we will try to do that, but starting from the good organisation, as a structure as well as a team – it’s most important that all the people go in the same path.

"And this is what we’re going to do from the beginning. As I told you before, the process is going to be long, but we know that we should start as well as possible. This is now our ambition.”

Updated: July 10, 2023, 1:25 PM