Tom Bushell on the UAE's Olympic team and exciting times at Al Ain
With the UAE footballers busy at London 2012 (having narrowly lost to Uruguay 2-1 in their opening match – well played, gents), it’s a good time to point out that their coach, Mahdi Ali, is tipped to take over as the full national coach after the Olympics, regardless of their performance at the Games. Big names have been mentioned in relation to this role: Fabio Capello, Redknapp, Eriksson et al. No need. Mahdi Ali has worked at the younger levels of UAE football, knows the players and can guide them through to full international level. In a way, the UAE are similar to Spain. A really good crop of younger players and, now that they’ve played together regularly at national level, they will get better and better.
The footballers aren’t the only UAE hopefuls in London, though, with UAE flag bearer Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al Maktoum hoping for gold in the shooting and Mohamed Abbas aiming to reach the triple jump finals. Al Bersher had hoped for a personal best in the pool, though sadly his Games are over having failed to make it through the heats. It’s fair to say that the UAE are well represented, but it’s important to remember many of these athletes are competing for the first time on the world stage. Rio in 2016 could well see a more competitive UAE team.
Away from London 2012, and Al Ain are on a mission to defend their Pro-League title next season. Since securing the talents of Asamoah Gyan on a full-time basis, they are now in talks with Brazilian Michel Bastos and Arsenal’s South Korean Park Chu-Young, and are keen to bolster their side ahead of competing in the AFC Champions League again. They won the cup with Bruno Metsu (now coaching Al Wasl) in 2003, becoming the first side from the UAE to do so. With the likes of Gyan upfront again this season, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they won it again.