Henk ten Cate seemed spent, no doubt by what had just gone before, not just in the 90 minutes and penalties of a manic President's Cup final, but by a five frantic months that had preceded it, too.
Recruited in late December by Al Jazira and charged with rescuing a season gone rotten, he had delivered that and more, as the club departed Zayed Sports City on Sunday night with the President's Cup trophy in tow.
A first title in four years and now the 2017 Asian Champions League to look forward to as well, Jazira suddenly appear in rude health. Yet, for a moment during the aftermath of the shootout victory against Al Ain, Ten Cate looked anything but.
“First, believe me, I’m going to enjoy a long holiday,” he said when quizzed about what lies ahead. “I’m happy to go home because I want to see my daughters and my grandson, and my mother. I didn’t see them for five months, so this is my first objective: to go back home and enjoy the company of my family.”
With that, he was off, his immediate future confirmed, his longer-term affiliation to Jazira still uncertain.
Ten Cate disclosed that talks have taken place with the club regarding extending the six-month contract he signed in December, but for now it seems most likely Jazira will seek another candidate, another new appointment to lift their recent managerial count to 10 in the past five years.
Should he want it, though, Ten Cate deserves to prolong his stay. The Dutchman has turned around an albeit-talented squad, given them belief and focused on fostering a team spirit. There is an obvious bond between the staff and players.
That much was evident through their run to the President’s Cup crown.
Defeating Al Ain on penalties in the final was another example of the confidence coaxed from the team by Ten Cate and those under him.
He has been a class act since his arrival also, typically magnanimous in defeat, forever seeking positives from whatever situation his team has faced. To quote Ten Cate, he is a “glass-half-full” man.
Whether Jazira see his position as such remains to be seen. What more can he extract from the players? Is someone else more suited to build on the foundations he has laid? These questions require a swift answer.
Jazira’s squad is crammed with prodigious youngsters, some who have benefited from Ten Cate’s encouragement, some who have embraced the faith shown to become regular contributors to the first team. Ally that with significant reinforcements to the foreign contingent this summer, and Jazira can prove this season’s seventh-place finish in the Arabian Gulf League was merely an anomaly, a necessary jolt to ensure they do not appoint the wrong manager again.
While the Abel Braga experiment clearly did not work, Ten Cate blatantly has. It is why he should be provided the option to continue, at least. Deflecting questions about his future on Sunday, he said: “Let’s talk about the celebration, about winning the President’s Cup, because I’m not so important.”
In contradiction, he has been. With the help of the coaching set-up around him – “my fantastic staff,” he called them – Ten Cate has saved Jazira’s season and more. Another crack at the job would be a fitting reward.
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