UAE FA face crucial decision when appointing the next national team manager

With a World Cup qualifying campaign in need of rescuing, the new manager will need to make an instant impact when football resumes

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 05 JANUARY 2020. Practise of the UAE National Footbal team at the UAE Football Association HQ in Al Khawaneej. Coach Ivan Jovanovic. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: John McAuley. Section: Sport.
Powered by automated translation

Ivan Jovanovic departed with an unwelcome distinction.

Appointed as UAE manager in late December, he was dismissed little more than three months later. He didn't oversee any matches.

His tenure lasted all of 106 days. It comprised one press conference - his introduction, on a six-month contract – a single squad announcement and a solitary training camp, from which a number of his established internationals were absent.

Jovanovic became on Monday what appears the first UAE national team manager to leave his post without actually managing a game. Whether a victim of misfortune, modifications at the Football Association, or unprecedented times, it would have stung.

Most probably, December seems an eternity ago. Jovanovic had been brought in to steady a ship that at the outset he declared was in the storm of a "crisis", to galvanise a World Cup bid that had begun badly. To see the team through to the next round of qualification, at least.

Ultimately, he never had the chance. The four qualifiers pencilled for Jovanovic - Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam at home, Indonesia away - went the way of almost every other professional football competition in the world, as the coronavirus swept through sport.

The double-header in March was postponed; the two tests in June, too. As of yet, no revised dates have been confirmed. Still, Jovanovic's role was expected to extend until those fixtures were fought, anticipated to be sometime between September and November.

Yet the FA’s new national-team committee decided to plot another path. Jovanovic was chosen by the previous regime; his continuation halted by the current.

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: John McAuley: Sharjah manager Abdulaziz Al Anbari. Sharjah v Al Taawoun, Asian Champions League. Tuesday, February 11th, 2020. Sharjah Stadium, Sharjah. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Sharjah manager Abdulaziz Al Anbari has been linked with the UAE vacancy. Chris Whiteoak / The National 

And so to his successor. Whoever that may be – Abdulaziz Al Anbari at Sharjah has been touted alongside a plethora of possibilities with Arabian Gulf League experience – the right decision must be taken. Given the grave nature of the UAE's qualification campaign, it represents arguably the most important appointment in recent history.

The UAE lie fourth in Group G, but their rivals have all played one match more. Five points off Vietnam at the summit, conceivably they need to win all four games to progress. Only group winners are guaranteed to advance to the third and final phase of qualification.

Of course, football’s enforced hiatus allows the FA time, although they must use it wisely. Do they opt for another stopgap manager, another firefighter with a four-match mandate? Or do they look also beyond the rescheduled qualifiers and to the long-term? Surely, for now, getting through is all that matters.

epa07329590 Alberto Zaccheroni head coach of UAE staands during the 2019 AFC Asian Cup semifinal round match between Qatar and UAE in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 29 January 2019.  EPA/ALI HAIDER
Alberto Zaccheroni lasted 15 months in the role but rarely felt a natural fit. EPA

The past four appointments, the majority of which admittedly put in place by former administrations, have not proved successful. Each arrived in the three years since Mahdi Ali resigned. Each was short-lived. Edgardo Bauza lasted 158 days, but he did trade the UAE for Saudi Arabia. Bert van Marwijk? 260.

In between, Alberto Zaccheroni was tasked with leading the national team to the 2019 Asian Cup final on home soil. He went once the hosts exited from the last four. Truth be told, the Italian rarely felt the right fit. He was in place for 15 months.

Regardless, the latest national-team committee will recognise the significance of Jovanovic’s successor. World Cup 2022 feels a final throw for a once-fabled generation, already fragmenting; an opportunity they had to grasp with the tournament being held this close to home.

Figuratively, though, there remains a long way to go. Get through those rescheduled four fixtures, and the UAE embark on another round of qualification, that one considerably more demanding, the pressure intensifying as it unspools.

First, however, the UAE must arrive at that juncture. As the FA embark on yet another managerial search, finding the ideal man to mastermind the venture is vital.