After the angst of the Asian Cup and long before, real reason for optimism.
Bert van Marwijk was on Wednesday confirmed as manager of the UAE national team, lifting the gloom that had descended during the previous regime, offering promise and a pronounced path to what the Football Association hopes to be World Cup 2022 and beyond.
Van Marwijk was always the No 1 choice. He was the only genuine target. The FA identified the Dutchman and, to its credit, pushed through a deal relatively quickly. Seven weeks separated his appointment and the semi-final exit at the Asian Cup, which brought the welcome conclusion to Zaccheroni’s 15-month reign.
Now Van Marwijk needs the time, patience and support to deliver.
His appeal is obvious: if guiding the Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final represents his coaching zenith, his record during two years with Saudi Arabia was deemed much more relevant. In the end, it was decisive.
Tackling deep-rooted problems within the Saudi set-up – his emphasis on discipline among his squad proved pivotal – Van Marwijk lifted a hugely expectant country to a first World Cup in 12 years. That he departed almost immediately after qualification was secured, in September 2017, felt unsatisfactory; that the work of the previous 25 months was curtailed before it could complete.
A reluctance to live permanently in the Kingdom was cited as reason for the breakdown in relations and a break-up of what appeared a working formula. But Van Marwijk would highlight other factors were in play. At one stage, he was offered a return to Saudi Arabia.
Still, the time there makes him extremely suitable to his new position. Van Marwijk knows Gulf football; more significantly, he understands it. Already, he has knowledge of the UAE team, since the regional rivals met four times during qualification for Russia. He will be well aware, though, that the road ahead is far from straightforward.
The so-called "Golden Generation" has rusted somewhat, ravaged by injury and racked with doubt since its deterioration from its Mahdi Ali thrive. Edgardo Bauza, the Emirati's short-term successor, never felt the correct fit. Zaccheroni neither.
It was evident throughout the Italian’s tenure, culminating in an ultimately disappointing Asian Cup on home soil. Van Marwijk should begin his duties from a wholly superior standing, his success with Saudi Arabia, both recent and relatable, a clear endorsement of what he can offer.
Yet the challenge is substantial. If World Cup 2022 is to be achieved – Van Marwijk stressed at his introduction on Thursday that that forms his solitary objective – an ageing squad must be remodelled, confidence restored and key men properly rehabilitated. Omar Abdulrahman and Ahmed Khalil should be central to the manager's plans, but each has been dimmed by issues with injury, fitness and form. Ali Mabkhout, meanwhile, has struggled internationally despite his continued prolificacy for Al Jazira. To move forward, an over-reliance on the UAE’s "Big Three" must be consigned to the past.
Perhaps, too, Van Marwijk will sense he has a point to prove. Saudi Arabia ended abruptly; his brief spell with Australia at last summer’s World Cup did not go as planned. Although, given the circumstances, it was always going to test him.
Another appearance at a global finals is the goal, however difficult a task that remains. The UAE have been there only once before, and came some way short of a second qualification last time out.
All the same, Van Marwijk’s appointment augurs well. At 66, he is a year older than Zaccheroni, but where the former Japan manager felt outdated and out of touch, Van Marwijk seems the necessary shot in the arm.
Initially at least, the FA has plumped for the right man. For the first time in a long while, heavy scepticism can give way to hope.