Veteran forward Ismail Matar has welcomed Bert van Marwijk’s appointment as UAE manager, saying his experience will be vital in the national team’s bid to reach the 2022 World Cup.
Van Marwjik was confirmed on Wednesday as the permanent successor to Alberto Zaccheroni, signing a deal that could eventually take him through to the 2023 Asian Cup.
The Dutchman, a runner-up with the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup, most recently managed Australia on a short-term basis at last summer’s finals, but rose to prominence in the region for masterminding Saudi Arabia’s qualification for Russia. It was their first appearance at a World Cup in 12 years.
Matar, who debuted for his country in 2003 and has gone on to make more than 100 appearances, believes Van Marwijk's CV bodes well for the national team looking to recover from their semi-final exit at the Asian Cup on home soil earlier this year. The UAE have only once previously qualified for a World Cup, in 1990.
“It’s a good move for the UAE,” Matar said. “We need a coach who’s been at that high level. He lost the World Cup final against Spain; he’s coached really big names in football and did well with Saudi Arabia.
“We need these kinds of coaches to give our players more experience. Football has changed today. It’s not like the old-school football. Every year we get more technology, facilities, resources, so we need to match the other teams.
“Because, if you don’t, you won’t get your chance and others will. We saw that in the Asian Cup. We have to catch up. There is a lot of improvement in Asia now, so really we need a big-name coach and a coach who also can change something.
“We have a good future, we have really talented players. But they need some guidance to reach our targets as players, fans, people in charge in the federation. Like I said, I think he’s a good appointment and I wish him all the best.”
Matar turns 36 next month and, understandably, is unsure as to how significant a role he will play during Van Marwijk's tenure. The Al Wahda captain still features regularly for his club – he started Friday's Arabian Gulf Cup final defeat to Shabab Al Ahli – but, with qualification for 2022 to begin in September, he may not see much of a future with the national team.
“I don’t know. I’m not making that decision yet,” Matar said. “For me, it’s not reachable to play the next Asian Cup, or World Cup qualification. It’s time to give the new blood some experience. Maybe I could help in some games if they need me to. It would be my pleasure. We’ll see.”
Asked if a coaching position within the national team is something that would appeal in future, Matar said: "I’m a guy who loves to learn. I don’t want to just waste my time. I learn from each single training, learn from each day. I want to be better. This is me.
"I would like to be a coach one day, but the hard thing with that is you cannot change everyone. You really have to have a strong mentally - I do – but for me the interesting point is maybe I can change the mentality.
"This is my goal. This is what I’m looking for, to change people around me, the young generation, to come with more advice, get more dedication, show them how to look after their body outside the pitch, more than inside. This is what we need to learn."