Sebastian Tagliabue claims Al Wahda are a better team than Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira and hopes they can emulate their fierce Abu Dhabi rivals by using President’s Cup glory as a springboard to next season’s league title.
The Clarets face Al Nasr in tomorrow’s final – the showpiece game of the UAE football season – and Argentine hotshot Tagliabue believes victory at Zayed Sports City can “save” Wahda’s 2016/17 campaign.
“We are looking to end the season with a trophy and save the season,” said the 32-year-old, who bemoaned a campaign in which they have fallen short, including a group stage exit in the Arabian Gulf Cup, which they won last season.
“We were very bad in the Arabian Gulf Cup and no good in the league. In the Champions League we were at a good level but didn’t get the results. So we hope on Friday we can win and give some happiness to the Sheikh, the club, the fans.”
Wahda reached the final thanks to Hungary winger Balazsz Dzsudzsak’s stoppage time penalty in a 1-0 win over Sharjah, and Tagliabue believes victory on Friday is the first step towards a successful 2017/18 campaign – thereby following the lead of capital city neighbours, Jazira
“Al Jazira were horrible last season but even so they still played in the President’s Cup final. So I hope next year we can be champions,” Tagliabue, who bagged a hat-trick in the 6-0 quarter-final demolition of Jazira in January, said of the Pride of Abu Dhabi.
“There have been four clubs better than us this season. It was strange because if you see our team we have a good team. If you press me I think we have a better team than Al Jazira.
“The reality is Al Jazira won their games and we lost. For that they deserve to be champions and we are in fifth. I’m sure we have a better team. We beat them 6-0 without any help.”
There was little to separate Friday’s opponents in the league this term. Javier Aguirre’s side finished three points and one place above the Blue Wave, and Tagliabue expects there to be a similar margin between the sides in the final.
“It will be a truly difficult game,” said the striker who arrived from Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab in the summer of 2013.
“Before they were strong but before they made a lot of mistakes. Now with the new coach they are stronger.
“It’s a final so it’s 50/50. Anything can happen but I’m sure we will be good and I hope to get a good result. I have a feeling we will be great, but we never know.”
Tagliabue revealed he is desperate to finish the campaign by bringing another trophy home to Al Nahyan and Wahda’s loyal fans, who have only seen their side lift one title – 17 years ago – despite six appearances on the grandest stage
“I would like to win this a lot, of course, for my family and for the fans, the club, because they always support me and the team,” added Tagliabue, who is aware the team’s fans have grown restless this season.
“Sometimes it is normal they make mistakes on Twitter or Instagram, I hear this from my team-mates, but it is normal. They are angry we don’t win but most of the time they show us respect and support, which is not the same in every club.
“And we have a lot of local fans, which is something very special, and not normal. A lot of clubs bring in other nationalities to support the club.”
Argentina legend Diego Maradona has signed on for a shock return to management at Fujairah in the UAE’s second division.
Maradona, 56, has been out of work since he was sacked by the Arabian Gulf League’s Al Wasl midway through a two-year deal in July 2012. The controversial World Cup 1986 winner – widely considered one of the sport’s greatest and most-iconic players, but a coach with a patchy record – will now take the helm of an ambitious club who are aiming to escape First Division League, after they failed to gain an instant top-flight return in 2016/17.
The ex-Boca Juniors, Barcelona and Napoli superstar – who is a long-term Dubai resident – was pictured signing a one-year contract last night.
“I want to tell you that I’m the new technical director of Fujairah, of the second division of United Arab Emirates,” Maradona wrote on his official Facebook page. “These are my new colours.”
There was some confusion about the Argentine’s declaration, with Fujairah tweeting a picture of him holding their shirt along with a message: “Official: The new coach of Fujairah.”
El Pibe de Oro enjoyed a historic and inspirational career as a footballer, winning Serie A twice with Napoli and the globe’s grandest football tournament with his native country 31 years ago. But similar success has eluded him in technical roles.
He had middling spells at Mandiyu de Corrientes and Racing Club during the mid-1990s back in his native country, before being surprisingly picked to lead Argentina in 2008. They then only just edged through qualifying to World Cup 2010, with an offer to renew his contract being withdrawn in the aftermath of a brutal 4-0 quarter-final defeat to Germany.
In May 2011, Wasl made the stunning announcement that he would be their coach from 2011/12. A trophyless campaign followed, featuring an eighth-placed top-flight finish, quarter-final exits in the President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup, plus an embarrassing loss to Bahrain’s Al Muharraq in the GCC Champions League’s decider.
Maradona remained in the country after he was dismissed, occasionally doing ambassadorial work for Dubai Sports Council.
He has also been a regular attendee at UAE national games, telling Sport360° last November: “When I was coming back from UAE v Iraq, I felt like I needed to manage a training session immediately, with fury. I couldn’t sleep, I was thinking the whole night; trainings, projects, planning, and I’m still feeling that.”
His new posting is in a remote emirate, two-hour’s drive from Dubai. With the likes of ex-Algeria and Rangers centre-back Madjid Bougherra in the Fujairah ranks, they spent two seasons in the AGL from 2014-16.
Bosnian Dzemal Hadziabdic was dismissed by the Wolves’ board last month. They went on to finish outside the FDL’s promotion spots in fourth under Egyptian Tarek Mostafa.
France international Lassana Diarra, who quit Marseille in February, has announced he has signed for newly-crowned Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira.
“I’m joining Al Jazira, champions of the UAE,” the 32-year-old told Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
“I’ll prepare in the United States before doing a pre-season with the squad from June.”
Diarra, capped 34 times by France, has also played for Chelsea, Arsenal, Portsmouth and Real Madrid, as well as Anzhi Makhachkala and Lokomotiv Moscow in the Russian Premier League.
He was release by Marseille after he had his commitment questioned by coach Rudi Garcia and the captaincy stripped from him.
Al Ahli and UAE marksman Ahmed Khalil has also agreed another high-profile free transfer to the Pride of Abu Dhabi. The 25-year-old – who is joint-top scorer in World Cup 2018 qualifying – will join on September 1.
Ten Cate’s title party
Organisers the Pro League Committee have revealed Jazira will be officially crowned AGL winners on Friday.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi have romped to a first title since 2010/11 and could get a record points tally with victory against Al Dhafra at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. Henk ten Cate’s men are the only team playing then, with everyone else finishing on Saturday.
Emirates Club will need to beat Al Nasr and hope for the best to avoid relegation.
Arabian Gulf League’s final round
18:10 Al Jazira v Al Dhafra
18:05 Al Ahli v Bani Yas
18:05 Al Ain v Ittihad Kalba
18:05 Dibba Al Fujairah v Sharjah
18:05 Emirates Club v Al Nasr
18:05 Hatta v Al Wasl
18:05 Al Shabab v Al Wahda