Al Ahli’s Emirati coach Mahdi Redha hopes that when he leads his team at the FIFA Club World Cup he will emulate the success he enjoyed when he steered the United Arab Emirates to victory in the AFC U-19 Championship last year, and when he then guided his country to the quarter-finals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup two months ago.
Redha took over as Al Ahli coach a month ago after Romanian coach Ioan Andone was sacked by the club, and during his brief tenure the side have won all three of their league games, climbing from tenth to seventh place in the league table.
The appointment of the 44-year-old created a small slice of history with Redha becoming the first Emirati coach of the club for 34 years, dating all the way back to the time of Jumaa Gharib, who took charge when the club was founded in 1970. Redha is now aiming to do well at a global club competition, as the head of the first Emirati team to play in the FIFA Club World Cup.
Ready and waiting
Redha says, “We’ve had a packed schedule over the past few weeks with matches in the President’s Cup, the domestic league and the Etisalat Cup, but the last four games have been great preparation for us prior to the Club World Cup. We’ve also held a training camp in Al Fujeira and we’re very happy with the outcome. We feel we’re ready for the tournament, especially as a number of injured players have now returned to contention.”
Redha believes Al Ahli’s participation in the FIFA Club World Cup is a huge challenge as the event brings together the champions of all the different continents while his side are there as hosts and UAE champions, a trophy they have won five times. “Playing in the domestic league and cups is very different from the Club World Cup. This is the biggest club competition in the world. So far we’ve been concentrating purely on the league given with the position we were in. Fortunately that has improved recently and we’ll now turn our attention to this competition so that we can put up a good performance."
"We’ve tried to prepare the players psychologically and mentally for this tournament. They have a massive incentive as this is the first time the tournament has been held in the UAE. Playing in this competition is very important for us because we aren’t just representing Al Ahli but the whole of the UAE and we want to show off the high standard of football in the country.”
Redha adds, “This is the second time this year I have been to a FIFA tournament, following the U-20 World Cup three months ago. I think participating in these tournaments is a personal achievement for me and I hope to have some good results with Al Ahli.”
Al Ahli begin their challenge with a match against Oceania champions Auckland City from New Zealand. Redha expects the match to be “very difficult for my players who are making their tournament debut against a team that appeared in the 2006 edition.” He adds, “Auckland City are a very good team. Their players are strong, physical and experienced. The match won’t be easy for us but we’re ready for it. There may be some tactical changes too, as Bare, our Brazilian, is back in training and could play a big role in the game.”
“We’ve been watching Auckland recently and we see them as a complete team and they are organised. Their players are well disciplined and there isn’t one danger man as all of the players are of a very high standard. They have a solid defence and good attack.”
Redha is very much looking forward to the event: “I think that this tournament is very important for Emirati football. I hope we have a big attendance as this will spur our players on during the competition. A large fan base is important in any match and as tickets for the first game are almost sold out it will be a huge boost for us. The crowd will be our 12th man and we hope to win the match for them.”