Mahdi Ali in running to return as UAE manager

Emirati, who managed the UAE senior side from 2012 to 2017, is among the names being considered to replace Pinto

Former UAE manager Mahdi Ali has emerged as a strong candidate to reprise his role with the national team, with the Football Association expected to press forward with their search this weekend.

The Emirati, who managed the UAE senior side with distinction from 2012 to 2017, is among the names being considered to replace Jorge Luis Pinto, who left two weeks ago having been appointed only in the summer.

Rodolfo Arruabarrena, the former Al Wasl manager, was reported to be one of three names the FA was to consider this weekend, although The National understands the Argentine, who recently became manager of Egyptian side Pyramids FC, has not been approached.

Henk ten Cate, previously manager of Al Jazira and Al Wahda, has been linked also, while former Al Ain manager Zoran Mamaic this week ruled himself out of the running.

It was believed the Croat, currently in charge of Dinamo Zagreb in his homeland, was the front-runner for the role. However, on Wednesday Mamic confirmed he would be staying at Zagreb despite receiving an offer from the Football Association.

The FA met at their Dubai headquarters on Thursday to discuss the search for Pinto’s replacement among a number of other issues, with an announcement anticipated to be made at the beginning of next week.

It appears now that Mahdi Ali is well placed to once again take charge of the national team, as the UAE look to rescue their World Cup 2022 qualification campaign.

The former manager, 55, enjoyed significant success in his first stint within the national set-up, initially as manager of various age-group sides. In 2012, he guided the Under-23s to a first ever Olympic Games, with the team then impressing in London with their style of play.

Mahdi Ali was promptly promoted to the senior side, where he went on to mastermind the UAE's Gulf Cup success in 2013 and then third place at the Asian Cup two years later. It marked the country’s best result in the competition on foreign soil.


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Mahdi Ali resigned in March 2017 immediately following the UAE’s crunch defeat to Australia in the final stage of qualification for the 2018 World Cup. His tenure had lasted four and a half years.

Since then, the UAE have had five different managers: Edgardo Bauza, Alberto Zaccheroni, Bert van Marwijk, Ivan Jovanovic and Pinto. The latter trio were all employed during the 13 months, with neither Jovanovic nor Pinto taking charge of a competitive match.

On Wednesday, speaking at a press conference ahead of Zagreb’s Europa League match against CSKA Moscow, Mamic was asked about interest from the UAE, saying: “Yes, my staff and I have made a lot of good results in the UAE. There are always inquiries from that part of the world, even now for the national team job.

“I am proud of that and privileged, but we are not leaving. Until when? Until Dinamo plays well and until we have good results.”

Meanwhile, Ten Cate said of the links to the national team: 'I've said for a long time that managing the UAE would be an honour for me. I know the players very well, & have continued to follow them. There's so much potential in the national team.”

Ten Cate enjoyed considerable success in the UAE during spells with Jazira and Wahda. In 2016, he won the President’s Cup with Jazira before guiding them to the Arabian Gulf League title the following season. It was only the club’s second top-flight crown.