Dubai: Former UAE national team manager Mahdi Ali returned to his ‘roots’ at Rashid Stadium to replace Cosmin Olaroiu, who left Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club by mutual consent on Sunday.
Ali, 52, who led the UAE to their first Olympics at London 2012 before winning the 2013 Gulf Cup and finishing third at the 2015 Asian Cup — was a former one-club player at Al Ahli from 1983 to 1998, winning two President’s Cup titles there in 1988 and 1996.
The Emirati coach also managed the Red Knights for three months during the 2009-10 season between Romania’s Ioan Andone and Tunisia’s Nour El Din.
Al Ahli, as they were once known, merged with Al Shabab and Dubai Club in the summer to become Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, but they still play at Rashid Stadium in Al Ghusais and have retained the majority of Al Ahli’s players.
Olaroiu, 48, leaves after a run of six league draws, which leaves them fifth in the Arabian Gulf League, seven points off leaders Al Ain. Friday’s 1-1 draw at home to second-from-bottom Al Dhafra proved to be the final straw.
It’s a fall from grace for the Romanian who won two league titles, two league cups and reached the final of the Asian Champions League in 2015 with Al Ahli, under their old guise, since joining from Al Ain in 2013, where he had been just as successful.
However, it became clear from the start of this season that as a result of the merger things weren’t the same, despite Olaroiu having kept most of his original squad, with the exception of maybe star men Everton Ribeiro and Asamoah Gyan, who weren’t retained.
Such was Olaroiu’s standing in UAE football that he was the first choice to replace Ali as the UAE national team manager in March, when the Emirati resigned as the Whites 2018 World Cup qualification bid went awry. His name again came up in October when Ali’s successor Edgardo Bauza left to join Saudi Arabia after the UAE’s failed World Cup bid had been confirmed.
Olaroiu, who has also worked in Saudi, Qatar, and his native Romania — having also been linked with that vacant national post in Bucharest as recently as September when Christoph Daum was replaced by Cosmin Contra after they failed to qualify for Russia — will no doubt stick around.
Ali, meanwhile, must prove that he’s just as versatile a club coach as national team manager, with that ill-fated spell in 2009/10 in charge of the Reds his only previous experience in club management.
It’s a big risk for the club, but one that could pay off given the fact that Ali’s stock and experience has risen considerably in seven years as a result of his success with the national team.
Given that run with the Whites didn’t end as he would have hoped by qualifying the UAE to only their second World Cup since 1990, he’ll also have something to prove as he re-enters the spotlight after nine months away.