MICHAEL BRADY didn’t know what he was letting himself in for when he was approached by a friend about taking on the head coaching role at Dubai United last summer.

The UAE second division side had only just been formed, they didn’t have anywhere to train and, somewhat problematically, there were no players to coach. It was, as the Dundonian notes, “a bit comical” to begin with. Even when he did gather together some semblance of a squad, after a series of hastily arranged trials, he lost some of his best players to failed blood tests. Another frantic search to replace them yielded a crop who were even better but the transfer window had closed and FIFA said they could not be signed until January.

When those players became eligible, the 37-year-old Brady, whose previous coaching experience extended to a stint with an amateur team in Qatar, started to work his magic and the team lost just twice between then and the end of a season called one game early due to coronavirus.

“We finished third,” says Brady over a Zoom call from his two-bedroomed flat that he shares with wife, Holly, and four-year-old twins Isaac and Vincent. “If we had beaten [the team in second] we would have been promoted, because it went on head-to-head, but we lost 3-1; it was heartbreaking. We had mainly African players, an English guy – players from South Africa, India, Ghana, Cameroon, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Comoros Islands – it was a mixture of nationalities, players who have played for first division clubs in Africa or wherever and have come here looking for a break. If we’d had the players we had at the end of the season we would have won the league. Some of the guys we signed could play at a much higher level, in the UAE Pro League or even abroad.

“First of all we had massive issues with getting a facility to train on and do trials. We had a school and then the day before [we were due to start] it got cancelled. It just looked very unprofessional to start with. Then we finally had a trial and another club, Al Hilal, started on the same night. They are owned by the same owners as Sheffield United. They have a team in Saudi Arabia but they wanted a feeder team here. Most of they guys went for a trial with Al Hilal and the ones that didn’t get selected came to us.”

The majority of Brady’s players come from poverty. The first thing they ask for is money but this is not a club underwritten by some wealthy benefactor. Yes, there is a Saudi Arabian backer with contacts in Belgium and his homeland but players are signed on the understanding that what United can offer them is the opportunity to move to one of those aforementioned countries should they impress.

HeraldScotland:

Salaries are banded on ability with the best talents earning a win bonus of around 500 dirhams a week (about £100). At the other end of the scale, there are players on a mere £20. It has meant Brady dips into his own pocket on a regular basis to provide help.

“Me and my wife, Holly, would provide food. They don’t receive a wage but they do get a win and transport bonus. The club provided accommodation for some of the players but couldn’t for all of them. So we would bring bags of food every couple of weeks, pay for taxis, give them an old phone and stuff like that. One Indian guy, we gave him a bag of dried pasta and the bag broke and he started eating the pasta off the ground. He didn’t realise you were meant to boil it. It was heartbreaking. Some of them didn’t have jobs, they thought this was their job. There was maybe a villa with four or five rooms with four or five of them in each room.”

Brady tells other discomfiting stories about what he has witnessed.

“One boy came to a game and he didn’t play very well and he said afterwards, ‘Can I speak to you coach? I’m so hungry, I’ve only had a cup with water and sugar’. Another guy came to training from Ras Al Khaimah, an hour and a half away, missed his bus and had to sleep in the bus station until 5am. He did that just for this opportunity. It is so sad at times,” says Brady, who combines coaching with a full-time position as a PE teacher at Safa Community School.

“I was working two full-time jobs, it was stressful, there were continuous messages from the players [asking for things]. I would be on the phone to the director of the club to do more. I was selling scratchcards in my work so that I could get money to buy food for them.

“That’s why it annoys me when you see people taking things for granted . . .” he tails off before launching into another broadside. “Steven Robb [former Dundee and Dundee United] is a good friend. I used to say to him, ‘Why are Scottish footballers not as good? Why do you not stay behind to do extra training?’ He would say, ‘Because you would get slagged by everybody else’. That’s the mentality.”

As the season neared its end, Brady suspected that his players might be targets for bribery, especially when people from a rival club turned up at United’s training ground a few days before a match. When it came to the 90 minutes, he sensed something was amiss.

“During the game five or six of our players were terrible – it was just basic things they were doing and I could not get my head around it. We had no proof of anything, though,” says Brady. He has since moved to combat any future attempts and is providing education for his players on the importance of sporting integrity. He has ambitions of his own and is awaiting confirmation that he has been accepted to do his UEFA Pro Licence. He did his A and B licences alongside such luminaries as the former Scotland internationals Craig Gordon, Kenny Miller and Kevin Thomson. Two of Porto’s Champions League winning squad, Costinha and Maniche were also contemporaries.

HeraldScotland:

He would love to have a crack at the Asian equivalent and take United into the UAE Pro League but the lure of home also appeals. This is the nature of a conversation with Brady. He is like an excited kid, talking about his Panini sticker album or FIFA Ultimate team. He is gripped by the game and speaks about it with unfettered honesty and a rabid enthusiasm.

“I would love to work under somebody in Scotland,” he says. “Even though I am working at a professional club now it is still nowhere near anything in Scotland or Europe. I believe I am very good at making connections with players.”

The one demand that Brady makes in return is that his players work hard. That belief is ingrained in his marrow, put there by his mother, who raised Michael and his three brothers on her own, after her Sudanese husband abandoned the family home in Dundee when the children were small.

“I think I am drawn to players who work hard. I had a tough upbringing. I just got on with it. My mum is my hero,” he says, the Tayside accent showing no signs of weakening.

And what of those players’ qualities as footballers, how does the standard compare to Scotland?

“Some of these guys would make a massive difference to clubs in Scotland,” he says. “Some of these players just need the chance.”