New man needs new methods

The physical fitness of the Emirati national team players one of a myriad of issues new coach Abdullah Misfir must address.

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The coach is gone, long live the coach.

Abdullah Misfir was named last night to the hot seat left vacant after Srecko Katanec's exit following defeats against Kuwait and Lebanon in the UAE's opening two matches of the third round of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

The Emirati is not new to the job, having served as the national team coach in 1999-2000. He was also Dominique Bathenay's assistant in 2005 and has worked with different age group teams. That gives him the right credentials for the post, though he might not have been at the top of most people's lists, with different names doing the rounds.

Thankfully, the Football Association have decided against giving Mahdi Ali, the Olympic team coach, additional charge of a battered national team. He was the first choice and has shown the Midas touch, but straddling and steering two ships at the same time could have been a bit taxing. Worse, it would have distracted him from the 2012 Olympic qualification race and hurt the nation's London dreams as well.

Misfir has an unenviable task ahead of him with his first game a visit to South Korea on October 11. Taking a team to a seemingly impregnable fortress in Seoul would be a nightmarish initiation. Time is not on his side either, but as he starts planning for the campaigns ahead, the coach must be pleased to hear about the return of Ismail Matar to training at Al Wahda.

The national team have clearly missed his creative spark and uplifting presence, his ability to create opportunities. Hamdan Al Kamali and Omar Abdulrahman are still on the injured list; the first - a natural-born leader and almost irreplaceable in defence - could still make the South Korea trip. Every football fan in the country will be praying for his speedy recovery given the performance of the UAE defenders in Beirut. Walid Abbas is hard-working and committed, but he is not a central defender.

Misfir has watched the current crop of players grow and probably played some part in each of their development, too. That should guarantee him respect in the dressing room. Murmurs of disquiet against Katanec's methods were rife during the previous regime.

Misfir's knowledge of local football and of players beyond the professional league clubs will also be an asset. It should give him a wider net and could even help in solving the long-standing problem of Emirati strikers. If he can unearth a few, he would have served the country for years to come.

The incoming coach, however, should heed some of Katanec's parting words. In his final interview as UAE coach, the Slovenian said the team had paid a "heavy price" for the poor physical fitness of the players. He also talked about players who were supposed to be training with their clubs, but instead went on holiday, citing fatigue.

The new coach will have to make sure he gets a lot more commitment from his players towards physical fitness. If not, he could take a leaf out of the Springbok training manual. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The South Africa rugby union team were sent to a military-style boot camp, called Kamp Staaldraad, before the 2003 Rugby World Cup. While that was one of the reasons for then-coach Rudolph Straeuli's resignation after the tournament, many teams across different spectrums have followed those methods with success.

John Buchanan organised a five-day military-style boot camp, which included a re-enactment of a crash site rescue mission among other drills, for his Australian cricket team in 2006 ahead of the Ashes, and the hosts drubbed England 5-0 - the first whitewash in the bilateral series since 1921. The camp allowed the players to overcome their individual fears.

The English did the same - a boot camp in Germany - before embarking on their Ashes tour last year and, while not many former players agreed with the method, Andy Flower's team got the right results in Australia and the fitness of the team was there for all to see.

The new coach could also try taking his team on a bonding expedition to The Cenotaph, like Steve Waugh, or any memorial or monument sacred to the Emiratis.

He could tell them about the Australia cricket captain's prized Baggy Green. He could even make sure the players listen only to Eye of the Tiger on their iPods and watch only Cool Runnings on their television sets.

This team need to show some pride, a lot more fight and even more passion for the jersey they wear, and Misfir needs to use every method - usual or unusual, ugly or controversial - to bring that about.