Outgoing manager Mahdi Ali can be proud of how far he has taken UAE football

The former director of Dubai Municipality has helped nurture the UAE’s brightest football talent in a generation for nearly 13 years, and it is indeed sad to see him go, writes Paul Radley from Sydney.

Mahdi Ali has been UAE national football team manager since 2012 but he was involved in the development of the current squad for a lot longer than that. Ravindranath K / The National
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SYDNEY // Over a decade together, and then it all ended without so much as a goodbye.

When Mahdi Ali announced his intention to resign as manager of the UAE national team in the news conference after defeat to Australia, it was the first anyone had officially heard of it.

He had opted not to tell his players, choosing instead to inform the media of the news first, in an auditorium backing on to indoor cricket nets in Sydney, half a world away from home.

After a soul-destroying loss to Japan in Al Ain on Thursday, he had said he was focused on his job. If he was to go, he said, it would be the federation's decision to make, not his.

And yet, when it all ended the way it always seems to – with a 2-0 defeat in Australia to a side helping themselves to headed goals at corners – he got in first.

By this stage, it felt inevitable. There are still nine points to play for in World Cup qualifying, but the top three sides in Group B have a four-point buffer.

Regardless of the maths, it feels as though the team is in a downward spiral, with three losses in their past four matches.

It was widely believed he had offered his resignation once before, when the UAE were due to face Iraq in November.

He confirmed that that had been the case, but said the UAE FA insisted he stay on. Maybe that prompted his tactic of going public this time. There can surely be no way back now.

“I think, after five years, I did my best,” he said. “We have had so many achievements.”


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If Mahdi Ali feels he has taken this side as far as he can, he can proud of his body of work. The former director of Dubai Municipality has helped nurture the UAE’s brightest football talent in a generation for nearly 13 years.

Thirteen years ago, Ahmed Khalil and Omar Abdulrahman were 12. Respectively, they are the two most recent recipients of Asia’s player of the year award. Looked at that way, that represents a job well done for their mentor.

Their have been team trinkets, too, like the Gulf Cup of Nations in 2013, the Under 19 Asian Cup title in 2008, as well as a first Olympic qualification.

Given what they have been through together, it seemed odd he would not tell his players first. History’s most successful Emirati manager has run life’s gamut with these players, sharing in heroic triumphs on the field, and tragedies of the real rather than sporting kind off it.

It will be six years in September since Theyab Awana, one of the most promising of UAE football’s coming generation, died in a car crash, aged just 21. They got through that painful loss together.

Mahdi Ali, 51, is always fond of saying his side work together as a family. Now it feels like the father is letting his children go out into the world and build their own lives, and make their own mistakes.

“It is a very bad moment for me,” he said. “I wish I could leave the national team in a better condition. But this is life. We have to accept it.

“For me, it is very hard, but I tried my best with all the tools I have. I think the coach is only one part of the team, there are so many other parts which help the coach.

“I apologise to all the UAE fans, the leaders, the players, the staff, I thank them all. This is the time for me to leave.”


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