UAE FA to decide on the future of coach Alberto Zaccheroni 'within days'

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The Italian has a fine CV, but has failed to impress since being appointed UAE coach late last year. (AFP)
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Updated 13 September 2018

UAE FA to decide on the future of coach Alberto Zaccheroni 'within days'

  • 3-0 win over Laos on Tuesday may not be enough to save former AC Milan and Juventus boss.
  • Worry is that if performances don't improve rapidly the target of reaching the Asian Cup final, on home soil next year, will impossible to achieve.

LONDON: UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni will learn in the next few days whether he is to lead the country into next year’s Asian Cup on home soil, a UAE FA official has told Arab News.
Despite Tuesday’s 3-0 win over lowly Laos during the team’s Spanish training camp, question marks still hang over “Zac.” Disquiet has been growing in Abu Dhabi over the record of the experienced Italian, appointed last October, ahead of the 24-team continental tournament that kicks off in January. Before Tuesday’s victory over the Southeast Asians, ranked 178th in the world, the Whites had lost four and drawn one of their previous five matches and scored just three goals in 11 under the 65-year-old.
After reports of player unrest and frustration about the Italian’s beloved 3-4-3 formation, Zaccheroni caved into the pressure and went with a 4-2-3-1 over Laos. Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout, the team’s stars who had been punished for reportedly breaking a team curfew in January, returned and both found the net to ensure that the team scored more than one for the first time under Zaccheroni.
There are divisions within the UAE FA about whether the former Inter Milan and Juventus boss, who won the 2011 Asian Cup with Japan and left Tokyo after a disappointing performance in the 2014 World Cup, deserves to stay on until January.
But what is not in doubt is that his future currently hangs by a thread.
“Anyone can see that results have been poor but performances have too often been really poor,” an official at the UAE FA told Arab News, adding that the target for the Asian Cup is to make the final, as the team did in 1996 when they last hosted the tournament.
“We want to reach the final but if these performances continue then we are not to going to get close. There is a lot of concern and different opinions.”

The UAE in happier times, just after their victory in the Gulf Cup semifinal. Since the end of that tournament they have gone on to win only once and lost three of their five matches. 

The 2-0 loss to Trinidad and Tobago in Spain in the previous week was a dismal effort, and it followed a goalless draw with Andorra and a loss to Gabon.
After such a string of results, the Laos win was welcome for the coach who won the Serie A title with AC Milan in 1999.
“There are still discussions to be held about the recent results because if there is to be a change, it has to be soon,” added the official.
“If Zaccheroni had not changed the formation then it would have been tough for him but he has shown that he can be flexible and listen to the players. That, and the fact that he has won the Asian Cup in the region, may save him, but the next few days are crucial.”
Speculation has increased to the point that the names of other coaches have been thrown into the ring. Al-Ain boss Zoran Mamic has been linked with the job but distanced himself from the hot-seat.
“I am extremely flattered and honored that my name is mentioned in connection to the UAE head coach,” Mamic wrote on social media.
“But (the) national team has a coach, Zaccheroni (who) is a great coach with an amazing career and as Al-Ain coach I am totally focused on our next games.”
Former Al-Jazira boss Henk ten Cate has been another name added to the mix after the success the Dutchman had at club level. Rui Faria, Jose Mourinho’s former assistant at Manchester United, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, has also been mentioned.
Publicly the UAE FA has been quick to back Zaccheroni, even if there is huge disquiet behind the scenes.
“The UAE Football Association denies what is being circulated in the media and social networking sites about communicating with any coach to take over for the Asian Cup,” a statement read.
“We appeal to everyone to stand behind the Whites and not to disturb preparations for the championships.”
For Zaccheroni’s part, he proclaimed that he was satisfied with the Spanish training camp.  
“The objective of these friendly matches is to develop the positives and address any negatives so we can avoid them in future,” he said.
“The players are implementing the vision of the technical staff on the field. The camp was successful and achieved the targets set.”
It remains to be seen if Zaccheroni is in charge when the national team returns to Spain next month for another training camp and tougher tests against Honduras and Venezuela.
The UAE kick off the Asian Cup on Jan. 5 against Bahrain in Abu Dhabi.

Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly

Updated 22 September 2018

Riz Rehman is the man with a plan to ensure Premier League passion is Muslim-friendly

  • Mohamed Salah's record-breaking season has focused attention on the Premier League's Muslim players and fans.
  • Past three players to win Player of the Year have all been Muslim.

LONDON: The face of English football has changed unimaginably since the start of the Premier League in 1992 — not least in terms of the number of Muslim footballers plying their trade in the most popular league in the world.
Twenty-six years ago, Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Nayim was the league’s only practicing Muslim. Fast forward to 2018 and there are now more than 40 Muslim players gracing England’s top flight — many of them global stars such as Mohamed Salah, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante. 
This is a hugely welcome development for the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and its education adviser, Riz Rehman, who is himself a Muslim. 
Rehman’s role involves him supporting players of different backgrounds — including Muslims — and aiming to boost their participation in football. Little wonder, then, that he is delighted that the past three winners of the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award were all Muslim — Salah, Kante and Riyad Mahrez. 
“It’s great for the Muslim community — young people, players, aspiring players and coaches — that three Muslims have won this award and that two of them (Salah and Mahrez) are Arabs,” Rehman told Arab News. 
“It’s very important because it’s created more awareness about Muslims being good at the game and sport in general. It’s important we highlight this.” 
Leading Muslim footballers’ soaring success and stardom have coincided with rising Islamaphobic attacks in Britain following the Brexit vote in 2016. Regressive attitudes toward race, religion and immigration have raged in some parts of the country, as Rehman acknowledged. 
“The biggest misconceptions are that Muslims are all terrorists or that they are all Asian and have long beards,” he said. “Isolated incidents are giving Muslims a bad name.” 
Mercifully for Rehman and the PFA, the likes of Salah and Kante are portraying Muslims in a far more positive — and realistic — light on and off the pitch. 
During his sublime 2017-18 season, Liverpool star Salah topped the Premier League goal-scoring charts with 32 goals and reached the Champions League final. His unstinting brilliance led to him being serenaded with his own song by Liverpool fans, which includes the line: “If he scores another few, then I’ll be a Muslim too.” 

Mohamed Salah has created a positive image of Muslims during his record-breaking year in the Premier League. 

Many social media posts and videos showing young supporters copying the Egyptian maestro’s overtly religious goal celebration have also been posted many times. This involves him performing sujood, the Islamic art of prostration. 
“Things like that are really helping to bring down barriers in the game,” Rehman said. 
Likewise, he cites the fact that Salah and his Liverpool teammate, Sadio Mane, visit a mosque every week after training for Jumu’ah, the Friday prayer. 
Meanwhile, only last Saturday the humbleness of Chelsea’s irrepressible midfielder Kante — who has two Premier League winners’ medals and one FA Cup success to his name — was widely hailed. 
After missing his Eurostar train to Paris, Kante — who achieved World Cup glory with France in July — was invited home for dinner by Arsenal fan Badlur Rahman Jalil after meeting him while praying at a London mosque. Remarkably, Kante duly obliged and spent the evening watching Match of the Day and playing the FIFA video game with Jalil and his friends. 
“People are more aware that we have Muslim players in the game,” Rehman said. “Players are not afraid to come out and embrace the fact that they are Muslims and showing the world that they’re good people.” 
But are the PFA — and clubs in the Premier League and England in general — doing enough to increase Muslim representation in English football? 
“I think things are better than ever. A lot of clubs are working hard on all-inclusive programs,” replied Rehman, who was a promising youth-team player at Brentford before injury cut short his career at the age of 17 in 2000. 
“We deliver workshops aimed at club staff to educate them about better engaging Muslim communities. We get staff and coaches together and tell them more about Islam, what it involves and discuss Ramadan and how it might affect performance and participation at all levels. 
“On the back of that, hopefully clubs will deliver programs around the needs of the community. There are clubs like Crystal Palace who are looking to deliver Asian-specific programs to get more Asian kids playing football, more Asian coaches and look at the Muslim community as well.” 
Rehman himself helped organized an Iftar event at League One outfit Portsmouth earlier this year, which “went really well.” 
“We also had players come along to support the day. Clubs such as Crystal Palace, Leicester City and a few others are showing an interest in holding similar events next season. 
“Leicester City are a club with a massive Asian community and we are supporting them with trying to set up some programs.” 
Also high on Rehman’s agenda is encouraging more BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) coaches into the game. As well as sitting on the advisory group for the Premier Leagues Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme, one key program he is involved in is “Sidelined-to-Sidelines.”

N'Golo Kante has been one of the best players in England's top-flight since he moved to the Premier League three years ago. 

This was established by the Zesh Rehman Foundation — which was set up by his brother, a former Fulham defender — to address a shortage of qualified South Asian coaches. 
“We are setting up sessions to try and recruit young coaches at clubs like Crystal Palace, QPR and Chelsea,” Rehman revealed. “Coaches wearing those club badges become role models and are able to influence their own communities and encourage more kids (from under-represented ethnicities) to take up the game.” 
Rehman is keen to recruit more Muslim “ambassadors” at clubs “up and down the country” to emulate the likes of the inspirational Salah. 
“We want them to work with the community, local groups, mosques, and get players to actually go into those communities and build links with the clubs. It’s a two-way thing.” 
Progress has also been made in attracting more Muslim supporters to Premier League matches, Rehman added. Liverpool and Brighton and Hove Albion are among the clubs that have multi-faith prayer rooms to cater for their increasingly diverse fanbases, he said. 
“Some clubs sell halal food, too, so there’s something for everyone.
“It’s a worldwide game now. Mo Salah has reached out to a lot of people. I think Muslim communities themselves have to make an effort to go to matches. 
“It’s not an overnight success, but you do see different communities represented on match days, week in and week out.”