London He may be often criticized in the media for staying aloof, but Under-23 football team coach Mahdi Ali has managed to instill a confidence in his players that has helped deliver time and again for the UAE. In making the Olympic Games debut with a side that has nearly remained unchanged for the past eight years, Ali made the UAE gain an instant nod of recognition on the international stage despite losing both the Group A matches at the London Olympics.
He started off as a midfielder with his beloved Al Ahli way back in 1973 – even winning a couple of President’s Cup titles with the team in 1988 and 1996 - but he found the call to a career in coaching much more attractive.
His first call to national duty was as assistant coach of the Under-16 side in 2003. Over the years, he realized that this was calling as he shrugged a career as an engineer. While working at the Dubai Municipality, Mehdi Ali helped set up the Road Transport Authority (RTA) while masterminding Dubai’s parking project and the ticketing system for the Dubai Metro.
As a coach the 47-year-old has unprecedented success while leading the ‘golden generation’ of UAE players, beginning with the U-19 Asian Cup Championship in 2008 and continuing with a last eight performance in the Fifa U-20 World Cup in 2009.
This was followed by the U-23 Gulf Cup crown and the silver medal at the Guangzhou Asian Games in 2010.
But the jewel in the crown for the coach is the qualifying to their first-ever Olympic Games by the team earlier this year.