Miguel Coley recalls thrills and spills coaching in the Middle East
...Jamaican says he’s grown leaps and bounds as football coach
Life in the desert — at first glance — conjures up scary images of challenge, suffering even.
But in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there exists a miracle of man — an ancient sandy wilderness transformed into a modern oasis consisting of life’s finest things as evidenced in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
There, and in not far away Qatar, life is good. Very good. But to truly know it, one must feel it and taste it, and to do so, one must live it.
Many Jamaicans have seized opportunities in varied fields in this faraway man-made paradise, thousands of miles away from the well-travelled routes — the USA, Canada and England — they have called home for many years.
In sport, a Jamaican football coach, with his family in tow is savouring life from all angles in the Middle East and says he is in “no rush” to leave.
Miguel Coley, the decorated coach of Jamaica College (JC) fame, has been living and working in that part of the world as an assistant coach, firstly with Iranian topflight club Esteghlal FC and recently with Abu Dhabi-based Baniyas FC that competes in the UAE Pro League.
At the moment, Coley is without a club as his partner and mentor, the German Winfried Schaefer declined to sign a new deal with Baniyas recently after joining the outfit in 2019.
“I am presently in the UAE, but I am without club at he moment as the head coach [Schaefer] decided not to renew the contract with the Baniyas Football Club.
“We are presently looking at some other club options. At Baniyas, I was the assistant coach of the team mostly responsible for tactical training and game analyst,” Coley shared with the Jamaica Observer from the UAE recently.
Before threading further into the story, it’s noteworthy that Coley is a trailblazer by becoming the Jamaican football coach to practice his trade in the heart of the Islam-shaped region.
The Jamaican, who packed his bag and headed off into the unknown with Schaefer in early 2018, says he respects the high level of structure and organisation of football in the UAE.
“It’s very good coaching in the United Arab Emirates; it’s very professional, organised and the league is well structured,” Coley said.
Teams in the Pro League compete for three trophies yearly — the League, President’s, and the Etisalat Cups.
Apart from the organisational competence, Coley thinks the UAE hits the spot when it comes to the modernity of its stadia and the visionary thinking of those who are entrusted in developing the club platform in the region.
But the Jamaican is left bemused that while football appears the most widely played sport in some of the most majestic facilities in the world, the talent on the field often perform to scarcely populated stadia.
“The facilities are fantastic, worldclass to say the least and that was highlighted when they [UAE] hosted the World Club league in 2018, and at Baniyas FC the atmosphere was good,” he noted.
“Football is their main sport, but the fan base is not so big. Teams like Al Ain, Al Wahda, Al Shabab, Al Jazira and Sharjah are some of the bigger clubs, but still their stadiums are not necessarily filled on a game by game basis,” Coley observed.
The Manchester native, who served as assistant to the colourful Schaefer during their joint Reggae Boyz stint, said at Baniyas while there were no titles to boast of, a key goal was achieved.
“I believe the head coach did well controlling the changing room and players were very disciplined. We had a very young team last season as the club model was one of developing players.
“We realise that results are important to atmosphere, but players kept professional and did their jobs and were eager to be better. As you know, management all over the world loves to win; but I believe we were given time to develop the young players in the club and I believe that was achieved,” Coley noted.
The 38-year-old says a crucial plank of the club’s focus last year was to forward-plan, nurturing the young flock of players into a solid unit over two years and one capable of realistically challenging for titles.
“Last year we had a mandate of developing the young team as the club would want to compete for championships the next two years. We were knocked out in the President’s Cup at the semi-final stage and were ascending in the league table when the league was cancelled [due to coronavirus]. So to some extent, the objective was achieved,” Coley stated.
He outlined that, like the multi-cultural melting pot of the UAE, professional football has an international flavour to it.
“We have players from all over… we had players from Brazil, Spain, South Africa, Portugal, Tanzania and Serbia.
“However, if overseas players are not performing, they [club] tends to cancel their contract quickly; I have seen where players’ contracts are terminated during preseason,” Coley explained.
He said, however, that Jamaican players could impact football in the emirates, and he is aware of efforts to pave the way for some of them to get opportunities there.
“It would be a great market for Jamaicans to explore. However, most of the clubs go for older players from big European clubs and younger players from Africa and South America.
“Still, it would be great to get a Jamaican player this side to create waves and open eyes to the talent in our country. I am in talks with agents about our players and hope soon something can happen,” Coley said.
While the UAE is rooted in its Muslim culture and its idiosyncrasies, Coley says adapting was seamless.
“It [UAE] doesn’t mandate that one must become a Muslim, but that you respect their religion. Majority of the persons living in the UAE are from outside, hence it’s multi-cultural. With cities like Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which is the tourism hub, they are very relaxed and peaceful places to work, raise a family and develop oneself,” Coley reasoned.
With the coronavirus pandemic resetting life as it has come to be known, the Jamaican ambassador thinks the monarchical state was quick in its response to the threat.
“The state has done a very good job in terms of reducing the spread of COVID-19. They were proactive and implemented ways and best practices of going about curbing the deadly virus.
“All attractions, and other places of gathering, were temporary closed, and most people worked from home and certain standards and sanitation programmes were used. There were serious fines for breaking rules and persons were not allowed to travel to different cities or emirates.
“However, when schools and attractions were open on a phased basis there was a rise in the number, but it has been managed as best as possible,” Coley noted.
In terms of his stint with Schaefer at Esteghlal, that ride was seen as bittersweet.
“It was very good coaching in Iran. First of all, the fans are amazing and the players are very good. However, there were always issues with the management. I won’t get in-depth in this matter as I have a case against the club in CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sports].
“Yes, they were happy to have me in their country, and the fans are so fanatical about football, it was difficult to travel in the streets and go to malls as fans would be rushing you. Stadiums were always filled out… stadiums had 90,000 people, especially during derby games,” notes Coley, as he reflected on his coaching post in the Middle East.
He said the time spent at the Tehranbased club was a success story in part.
“During our time in Iran, we won the knockout tournament in 2018 [Hazfi Cup] and we went to the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League and second place in the League in 2018,” Coley boasts.
As far as his personal development goes, the former Barbican FC technical director believes his knowledge of the game has grown leaps and bounds since moving overseas.
“I have improved a lot in match analysis, developing a coaching methodology and day by day management with a club structure. I have done my Asian Coaching A licence and believe that I am a better coach based on my experience and constant research on different aspects of the game,” Coley concluded.
Assistant Baniyas FC coach, Jamaican Miguel Coley, barks instructions from the touchline during a UAE pro league match.