Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Mariano Donda, No 8, the club captain, has called for time and patience as new manager Hector Cuper and several young players integrate themselves into the squad. Ashraf Umrah / Al Ittihad
Mariano Donda, No 8, the club captain, has called for time and patience as new manager Hector Cuper and several young players integrate themselves into the squad. Ashraf Umrah / Al Ittihad
Hector Cuper is Al Wasl's eighth manager since 2011. Razan Alzayani / The National
Hector Cuper is Al Wasl's eighth manager since 2011. Razan Alzayani / The National

Al Wasl a club short on time

Club leaning on captain's experience amid latest transition period

It is the rarest of commodities in the Arabian Gulf League, yet Mariano Donda, the Al Wasl captain, craves time.

Time to reach full rehabilitation following a serious knee injury that necessitated eight months without football; time to help nurture the Dubai club’s fresh flock of talented youngsters; time to develop a successful understanding with Hector Cuper, the seventh coach in Donda’s two-and-half years at the Zabeel Stadium.

“The only way here is to work, and Cuper is working hard with the team, at the same level with all the players.” Donda said. “But this is a long season. We have another six months and we still have too much work to do.”

That statement received a firm endorsement last week. After a gentle introduction to UAE football – four points were gleaned from two matches – Cuper watched his new side suffer their worst league defeat in the professional era during a 6-1 loss to Al Nasr.

Reduced to 10 men when Yaser Salem saw red on three minutes, by the time the clock approached the half-hour mark, Wasl were four goals down. Understandably, Donda finds the disappointment hard to shake.

“Football is difficult to enjoy, because every time you must win, or you try to do your best to win,” the Argentine midfielder said. “You can prepare a long time for a season, or for a match, but then something bad happens.

“We received a big kick against Al Nasr. I was afraid for the club and afraid for the supporters, because I know a lot of them and what they felt after the match. But sometimes you need this kind of kick.”

Monday’s hard-fought, extra-time victory against Ajman in the President’s Cup at least offered some relief. Donda was left out of the starting XI, but he hopes to return for Sunday’s crucial league encounter with Al Ahli, the current leaders.

“Maybe this will be the start of something good for us,” he said.

However, false dawns endlessly break over Wasl. Having lifted a league-and-cup double in 2007, one of the country’s most decorated clubs have since failed to replenish the trophy cabinet.

Ironically, Diego Maradona’s stormy reign,which began in May 2011, marked a relatively serene stretch in which Wasl confided in a solitary coach – in the 2008/09 campaign they employed five different managers. But 14 months into his tenure, the Argentine was dismissed. Wasl had finished eighth, stranded far from their former pedestal.

Last season, unfortunate circumstances gave way to calamity, prompting significant change at the boardroom level. In April, Abdullah Hareb was sworn in as chairman and led the new regime, but when Wasl eventually slipped to ninth, manager Eid Baroot’s temporary contract was not made permanent, and Frenchman Laurent Banide was welcomed to the club as coach instead.

His new paymasters announced a “10-year plan” to restore Wasl to past glory, placing an emphasis on developing and promoting youth-team players. Fahad Hadeed was the poster boy of the new era, but even his fine start this season failed to spark the side under Banide.

He was relieved of his duties after five months, with Cuper installed as his replacement on November 14. And so began another project. Again, restraint has been stressed.

“This year, Al Wasl are in a big transition,” Donda said. “We’re trying to look toward the younger players and they need time. So it’s a big chance for us to help them, and Cuper is a big part of that.

“He’s efficient, a good coach. But we will only be able to tell at the end of the season. Now we try to listen to him, to practice what he’s doing or what he’s thinking, yet we must be patient. We need time to know his mind.

“This is a new period in Al Wasl, but I wish the players will help him to get confident with us and to try to do our best to improve. We must recognise the opportunity to change in football is today.”

Focusing on the present can prove difficult when minds constantly cast to the future.

Wasl yearn for a return to their championship-winning ways, yet the trust placed in emergent players, such as Hadeed or Othman Al Hamour or Abdullah Kazim – all age 21 or younger – requires a little perspective, especially considering the capriciousness that perpetually swirls in the background.

“I know for the local players, it’s not easy to change coach all the time, that we’ve had seven or eight in the past few years,” Donda said. “But we must understand that professionals are everyone. Everybody has a salary, everybody has a contract.

“In football, every day is a test. Being professional is not just two or three hours, it’s one day, 24 hours. So we try to help the young players realise this, and to help the new coach, because these are his first weeks. Soon, we hope to change the situation.”

If anything is to improve, much responsibility falls on the club’s foreign players. Aspersions have been cast upon the international quartet of Donda, Milan Susak, Andre Senghor and Abdelfettah Boukhriss. Meanwhile, Kaio, the Brazilian forward, and Edson Puch, the Chilean midfielder, have recently joined first-team training, although Donda reiterates that success only finds root in the collective.

“Sure, everybody must criticise themselves,” he said. “And everybody must do better. But this is a team. If the player who’s near to me plays better, I will play better. It’s not magic. There are no miracles.

“So we work as a group. There is no point in the striker scoring 10 goals if we concede 11. Only by working in training, and by feeling proud that we’re at this club, is the best way we can honour the club.”

As captain and compatriot to Cuper, the burden of expectation weighs more heavily on Donda. He is a conduit between the coach and his colleagues, but at times during the past few weeks, even he has found himself omitted from the side.

That he has featured in 11 of 15 matches this season following last January’s knee surgery confirms his influence on the team, but still, Donda is not content.

“I’ll be happy when I take some championships with Al Wasl,” he said. “Or when I win two or three matches consecutively. Because, for me, first of all, there is Al Wasl, not Mariano.

“I will do my best and I will do that until the last day at this club. As I tell the players all the time, we must do our best every day, because in football we don’t have time.”


Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

 Rolling out the structure for the set. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National

Star Wars: Episode VII evidence in Abu Dhabi desert

After more than a week of speculation, The National has what are believed to be the first photos of a Star Wars shoot in the Abu Dhabi desert.

 Children walk past an Indian voter awareness mural in Mumbai ahead of the sixth phase of India’s national elections. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP

Inside India: Election, Promoting the Vote

A view of news and daily life on the Indian subcontinent for the week of April 10, 2014.

 INVERNESS, SCOTLAND - APRIL 16:  A general view of Urquhart Castle, Drumnadrochit on April 16, 2014 in Scotland. A referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country will take place on September 18, 2014.  (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Map of seperatist movements around the world

The conflict in Ukraine is a classic example of competing aspirations and identities – here’s a look at seperatist movements around the world.

 Hassan Abdullah, who goes by the name Abu Mahmoud, an Emirati fisherman, poses for a portrait at the Al Rughayalat Port. Abu Mahmoud was born and raised in Fujairah city and has been working as a fisherman since 1968. “I’m a shark man”, he says, “I was born in the sea.” Silvia Razgova / The National

In pictures: Fishing communities in the Northern Emirates

Fishermen in Fujairah and Umm Al Qaiwain worry that new regulations to protect fish stocks are harming their trade. We look at both communities through the lens of our photographers.

 The cast of Fast & Furious 7, including Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel, centre, on set at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Fast & Furious 7 filming in full swing at Emirates Palace

Filming for Fast & Furious 7 has started and we have the first photos of the cast and crew on set at Emirates Palace hotel this morning. Visitors staying at Emirates Palace say they have been kept away from certain areas in the grounds.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National