Dubai: Time is running out and the UAE Football Association will need to act fast on appointing a new coach to take over the senior national team at the earliest possible.
Earlier this week, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced the proposed dates for the remaining Round 2 World Cup and Asian Cup qualifiers.
First up for The Whites will be a tough home encounter against Malaysia on October 8 followed by their away match to Indonesia on October 13. The UAE will then get a near one-month cushion before hosting Thailand and Vietnam on November 12 and 17 respectively.
Since the mutual parting of ways with Ivan Jovanovic in March before the Serbian had taken charge of a match, the names of several coaches have been making the rounds. Prominent among these are Juan Antonio Pizzi — who led Saudi Arabia at the last World Cup in Russia — former Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai coach from Argentina Rodolfo Arruabarrena, along with a trio of former Al Ain managers — Cosmin Olaroiu, Zoran Mamic and Zlatko Dalic, presently the head coach for Croatia’s campaign at Euro 2021.
However, time and again Yousuf Al Sahlawi, the second vice-president of the UAE FA and head of the national team committee in-charge of identifying Jovanovic’s successor, has insisted that The Whites are on the look out for a long-term manager.
This long-term appointment with have a two-pronged objective — guiding the UAE through qualification for Qatar 2022 while putting in place a solid foundation to make it through to the 2026 Fifa World Cup.
And this is where the cream rises to the top with Al Dhafra’s Serbian coach Vuk Rasovic and Romanian Olaroui rightly in the frame to take over.
Since taking over the reins at Al Dhafra, the 47-year-old Rasovic has managed to get the best out of a modest squad at his disposal. A former defender with clubs in Russia, Bulgaria, his native Serbia and with MLS side Kansas City Wizards in the US, Rasovic’s entry into managing teams came as a 38-year-old with Serbian side FK Teleoptik.
Rasovic has moved around Europe with stops at FK Partizan when the Serbian side won the league title in 2013, as director of football with FC Dinamo Minsk in Belarus and then at Napredak Krusevac in Serbia before moving to Saudi Arabia when Al Faisaly ended runners-up in the King’s Cup in 2018.
Rasovic has been methodical with The Western Knights while making two President’s Cup finals in as many years. Last season, Al Dhafra lost 2-1 to Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, while the date for this year’s final against Al Ain is yet to be announced by the UAE FA.
Olaroui too is no novice to overseeing development of successful teams. Currently with Jiangsu Suning as replacement for Fabio Capello in March 2018, Olaroui is well-known in the region and in the UAE after spending long terms with Al Ain and Al Ahli in the past.
If Olaroui blossomed leading Al Ain to back-to-back league titles in 2011-12 and 2012-13, the Romanian — who turned 51 on June 10 — bloomed with Dubai’s Al Ahli. The Red Knights went on to win two league crowns (2013-14 and 2015-16) under the three-time AGL Coach of the Year and runners-up in the 2015 AFC Champions League.
Apart from Qatar, who qualify automatically as hosts, a total of 4.5 slots (four direct places and one inter-confederation play-off spot) are available for the teams from Asia. Involving a total of four rounds, the first two rounds double up as the qualifying for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup to be held in China.
As per regulations, the 46 participating teams have not even reached the halfway mark at the moment. At the end of Round 2, the eight group winners will be joined by the four best group runners-up and advance to the third round of Fifa World Cup qualification while also qualifying for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup finals. And should Qatar finish as group winners or one of the best four runners-up, the fifth-best runners-up will take their place in the third round.
Hopefully, the UAE national team can expect the naming of a coach shortly.