Sebastian Tagliabue has achieved so much in a decorated spell with his beloved Al Wahda, but the veteran striker admits the lack of a league title in his six years with the club sometimes “doesn’t let me sleep”.
The Argentine is very much an anomaly in the transient environment of the UAE and Arabian Gulf League in-particular. He will head into his seventh season with the Clarets in 2019/20 – some players and coaches have left before completing seven games.
But the prolific marksman describes Wahda as “my second home in football” and he is desperate to lift an elusive AGL title – if only to silence iconic former club and UAE national team player Fahad Masoud, who is now in a management role at Al Nahyan Stadium.
“It is one thing left to achieve, the league title. Sometimes this doesn’t let me sleep,” the affable Tagliabue, known affectionately among Clarets fans as ‘Tigali’, told Sport360 on Wednesday evening after training.
“For example I was speaking to one person at the club yesterday, Fahad, and I asked him how many titles he has here at the club. He said four, but I have five. But then he told me ‘I have four leagues, so don’t speak’ so he totally kill me.
“Before I finish my career here, if I can take the league with Al Wahda, my career will be complete. If I take the league he cannot speak to me.”
Despite the AGL crown eluding both Tagliabue and the club – Wahda will head into the new season having not tasted league success in a decade – the 34-year-old has lifted a plethora of accolades in the UAE capital, both collective and individual.
He has hoisted the President’s Cup as well as two Arabian Gulf Cups and two UAE Super Cups – all in the last three seasons – while he has also twice finished top of the AGL scoring charts as well as being crowned AGL player of the year on as many occasions.
Arguably, his biggest individual feat arrived last term when he overtook iconic former Al Ain striker Asamoah Gyan as the top-scoring foreign player in league history since the AGL turned professional 10 years ago.
His prowess in front of goal almost led to a call-up to the UAE national team for January’s Asian Cup – then Al Wasl duo Caio and Fabio De Lima were also considered but red tape saw plans scuppered.
But that process, the high regard in which he is held at Al Nahyan and his family’s love of the UAE capital means Tagliabue continues to find happiness in Abu Dhabi.
“Wahda is my second home in football,” added the Buenos Aires native.
“My home is my club in Argentina (Club Atletico Colegiales) but outside of Argentina this is my home in football.
“I always say every year or when I have to renew every two or three years I always have the first words with Wahda. I will not speak with any club before I speak with Al Wahda because I feel very good here.
“Of course we have bad and good moments, sometimes I wanted to leave because not everything is perfect, and I know sometimes the club wanted to change me, because this is football. But when I look back and see ‘wow, seven years’, we are champions five times.
“We cannot take the league but this year, maybe, we will fight for that. I was two times top scorer and two times best foreign player, and now the best foreign scorer in the league, I almost played for the UAE national team. This seven years at this club has been really amazing for me.”
Promoted Khor Fakkan spelled out their intention to compete in the Arabian Gulf League on Wednesday night with a trio of impressive Brazilian deals.
A quick-fire series of announcements was headlined by the news prolific Al Qadsiah winger Bismark, 26, had agreed terms. The peroxide-haired attacker struck 10 times in 29 Saudi Professional League matches last term as he battled, in vain, against relegation.
He is joined at Saqr bin Mohammad al Qassimi Stadium by Boavista centre-back Robson, who impressed in 2018/19 when returning Bani Yas swept to sixth. Atletico Mineiro playmaker Dodo, 24, will also look to impress in the wake of a solid loan spell at Fortaleza that contained five goals in 53 league run-outs.
The east-coast outfit claimed the First Division League’s title last season, earning a top-flight berth for the first time since 2008/09 when they were known as Al Khaleej. Paulo Comelli has subsequently been drafted in, with the experienced ex-Emirates Club and Dibba Al Fujairah tactician leaning heavily on his compatriots in the transfer market.
Veteran Iraqi coach Abdulwhab Abdulqader made way for the 59-year-old.
Bismark and Robson are travelling to tie-up their moves, while Dodo’s has already gone through.
Towering Ukrainian centre forward Miro Slavov, 28, and well-travelled Brazilian playmaker Rodrigo Souza, 31, will not be retained in the four-player foreign quota. Both players played key roles in earning promotion.
Khor Fakkan have also been busy in the domestic market. Additions include Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club forward Rashed Hassan and Bani Yas midfielder Ahmed Saleh Haboush.
Few clubs across Asia last term boasted a greater disparity than Al Nasr between the awe-inspiring venue they called home and the sorry side that floundered in it.
Not even the flood of goals from ex-Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo could hide a litany of sins which witnessed the Blue Wave crash into an unseemly eighth spot in the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League. A lowest finish since 2009/10, incongruously, came at the same time they introduced a new architectural wonder to Dubai’s skyline.
The sublime upgrade for January 2019’s Asian Cup transformed their dilapidated arena into the Middle East’s version of Bayern Munich’s iconic Allianz Arena. Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and the rest of Arsenal’s travelling party provided apt opponents in March’s official opening.
A grand home then, but one without a requisite star name to regularly grace it.
This is where celebrated UAE playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and his tumultuous summer come into the picture. Rare opportunity knocks for an emboldened Nasr to nab a refined footballer, truly befitting of their grandiose home.
As games of brinkmanship go, this week’s reputed squeeze attempt by Amoory’s camp on exasperated employers Al Hilal will not go down as a classic.
Amid claim and counter-claim from both sides, the only tangible fact is that the Emirates’ best player from a ‘Golden Generation’ is presently set to, for the second-successive pre-season, become a free agent next month.
Hilal’s Saudi Professional League rivals Al Ahli Jeddah are reported to have prepared an alluring Dh40 million deal. Closer to home, competition for former side Al Ain is expected to arrive from Al Jazira and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
Nasr have, to date, been conspicuous by their absence within Arabian football circles.
No matter the venom in Hilal’s weekend statement that alleged mendacious behaviour, eventual rapprochement cannot be ruled out. Such is the pull of the 2016 AFC Player of the Year’s boyhood team.
This does not mean, however, that the Blue Wave are incapable of offering an enticing package.
Dubai is in desperate need of a sporting icon it can call its own. Forget the constant flood of illustrious visitors, from Roger Federer to Anthony Joshua and beyond, few other truly global cities are without one in permanent residence.
Amoory’s pull in the Arabian Gulf saw “Amoory matlab ya Bin Nafil” (Amoory new contract from Hilal president Fahad bin Nafil) become the number one trending topic on Saudi Arabian Twitter on Monday.
Transport the fervour to Dubai and the Al Maktoum will be lifted. This vibe could help lift an entire division.
AGL organisers, the Pro League Committee, have put concerted work into raising falling attendances and waning interest. Amoory’s presence in Dubai would be a welcome boon.
Amoory’s appeal for Nasr is obvious. It is less so when this scenario is flipped.
But there may also be legitimate doubts that cause hesitancy from the region’s biggest hitters and AFC Champions League participants in securing his signature.
Only one goal and one assist in five SPL games were notched by Amoory, prior to October’s devastating anterior cruciate ligament tear.
Full fitness from the latest in a long line of serious knee problems was also only confirmed late last week. From there, shenanigans began with Hilal.
Nasr appear to have recruited sensibly in this summer transfer window.
Colo-Colo’s Esteban Pavez helped anchor Chile’s midfield at the 2019 Copa America. Portuguese free agent Toze struck nine goals and three assists from attacking midfield for Portugal’s Vitoria Guimaraes, plus winger Brandley Kuwas reached double digits for both at the Eredivisie’s Heracles Almelo.
Amoory would turn a solid recruitment drive into a sensational one. He’d also make the Al Maktoum a sporting landmark, rather than just a resplendent example of landmark design.