Ivan Jovanovic, the new UAE coach.
Ivan Jovanovic, the new UAE coach. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Ivan Jovanovic was unveiled as the new coach at the UAE Football Association headquarters in Khawaneej yesterday and immediately moved to hammer home the point that his role was to get the national team out of the “crisis” that could result in a premature end to their hopes of qualifying for the 2022 Fifa World Cup.

Serbian Jovanovic is no stranger to the UAE, having had two stints at Dubai based Al Nasr Club, which ended with the acrimonious announcement he had been sacked from the role. That was in 2016 and more recently 2018.

But he is back for a third time and replaces sacked Dutchman Bert van Marwijk as UAE manager. Jovanovic has been handed a six-month contract and tasked with the tough ask of helping the Whites make the third round of qualifiers. Two wins in four games in Group G, which also comprises Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand — ranked in that order in the pool — of the second round of qualifying have relegated the UAE to fourth in the five team group at the half-way stage. Only Indonesia, who are yet to claim a point after five matches, are behind them. Vietnam lead the group with 11 points, followed by Malaysia on nine and Thailand with eight.

Thankfully, the UAE, with six points, have a game in hand and host Malaysia in their next game on March 23, meaning Jovanovic has a little under three months to get his act together with a team he will meet for the first time in the early days of the New Year.

Serbian Coach of the Year in 2011, 57-year-old Jovanovic believes the UAE don’t deserve to be where they find themselves right now and has vowed to do his bit to ensure he adds longevity to their World Cup qualifying hopes.

“This is a very important day for me, the people working here and I believe for my players,” said Jovanovic, who helped Al Nasr end their 25-year wait for a title when securing the 2014 GCC Champions League, 2014/15 UAE President’s Cup and 2014/15 UAE League Cup during his first stint which lasted three years from 2013 to 2016.

This is Jovanovic’s first managerial role international football and he is excited as he added: “It’s a new start for me, for most of the people. It’s a good challenge in front of us; a big challenge.

“This position is not for us. We need to get out of this crisis. We need to take the national team to the next step of qualification. This is the first and only target that I have in mind.”

He feels his local knowledge should help him hit the ground running with the national team. “I believe in those players, I know them very well from my six years in the UAE and I believe that we can make it possible together,” Jovanovic said.

“So when the Federation needed my help because of my six years knowledge of local football, it was difficult to say no.

“We have faced a crisis in terms of results, but from my experience the players always want to play their best for the national team.

“We need to win four games and I want help from everybody in this difficult moment in order to succeed. It’s a good challenge for me and the players to show a positive reaction.”