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Josef Hickersberger turned the fortunes of Al Wahda during a three-and-half-year stay barring this last season which he put down to low morale among the players.
Josef Hickersberger turned the fortunes of Al Wahda during a three-and-half-year stay barring this last season which he put down to low morale among the players.

Al Wahda coach aims to leave UAE on a high

The departing coach Josef Hickersberger tells Amith Passela that there is room for improvement in the Pro League.

Josef Hickersberger has his bags packed and is ready to leave the UAE tomorrow as his latest coaching stint in the Gulf comes to an end.

But first the Austrian wants to sign off his second stint as coach of Al Wahda by making sure his side put in an honourable performance against Emirates, who will be battling to avoid relegation.

Wahda have nothing to play for other than a fifth-placed finish in the Pro League. But a win for Emirates and defeat for Dubai against Al Jazira in Abu Dhabi would keep the Ras Al Khaimah club in the top flight next season.

Hickersberger says it would be unfair to Dubai if Wahda did not give 100 per cent against Emirates.

"For Emirates, this is a massive, massive game to stay in the Pro League. They will have a lot of motivation to win," Hickersberger said.

"For us, there is no motivation, but I have to deal with this situation. The players should respect their commitment and the contracts. They should give 100 per cent to win this game. And for me, for sure I want to win before I leave."

The Austrian travelled with all his luggage to the Northern Emirates and will depart tomorrow from Dubai International Airport on a plane to Vienna immediately after the Reserve League match between the two teams.

Wahda will be far from full strength, as has often been the case this season. Several key players have opted out of travelling to Ras Al Khaimah while Fernando Baiano, the Brazilian striker, and Eisa Ahmed, the defender, are serving one-match bans for accumulating three yellow cards.

Hugo, the Brazilian midfielder, and Mohammed Shaibah, the Oman international who is on a one-year loan from Al Wasl, have made themselves available in what will be their last games for the club.

"When several key players have got themselves excused from travelling with various reasons it is a good gesture for Hugo and Shaibah to play this game," Hickersberger said.

Hickersberger has coached in the Gulf on and off since 1995, including spells at UAE clubs Al Shaab and Al Wasl. He admits the team's problems this season has made this campaign his most difficult since coming to the region.

"It was difficult for me because of various reasons. But for sure, I have a lot of good memories that I can take back, and the best was winning the Pro League [in his first spell in 2010] when the chairman, Sheikh Saeed bin Zayed, most wanted to," Hickersberger said.

That league triumph granted Wahda a direct passage to the Club World Cup, which was hosted in Abu Dhabi in December 2010.

Hickersberger's time in the Gulf began in Bahrain in 1995 when he enjoyed a two-year spell at Al Ahli.

He led the club to their first league title in 17 years during that time before moving to Egypt, where he saved Arab Contractors from relegation and then led them to third place in the Egyptian Premier League the following season.

In 1999 he returned to the Gulf and led Al Shaab to third in the UAE league before taking over the reins at Al Wasl, although it was a less-than fruitful venture.

"I was sacked by Wasl for no apparent reason," he said. "I took up an offer from Qatar's Al Ittihad [now Al Gharafa] as soon as I left Wasl.

He enjoyed better fortunes in the Qatari league, winning the top-flight championship as well as reaching the final of the Crown Prince Cup. Hickersberger received a call from his former club Rapid Vienna to replace Lothar Mathaus, the German legend, in 2002, where he had enjoyed six successful seasons as a player from 1966-72. He led them to the Austrian championship in 2004/2005 and qualified for the Uefa Champions League.

He then took charge of Austria for Euro 2008 but resigned after the team failed to progress beyond the group stage.

Wahda approached him in the middle of the 2008/09 season. He quickly turned around the club's fortunes and led them to fourth in the league and the Asian Champions League after winning a play-off. The following season, he led the club to their fourth domestic league title and first since 2005.

Hickersberger said he would not be adverse to returning to coach here again in the future, although at the age of 64, he would not be too upset if there were no offers either.

Reflecting on his experience working in the region, which also saw him take in two stints as coach of the Bahrain national team, Hickersberger said he often had to contend with outside interference, as well as the high, and often, unrealistic expectations of the fans. He also said that winning the players over was key for any coach looking to be successful in the Gulf.

"We have to be diplomatic, both on the pitch and off the pitch," said Hickersberger. "It is a challenge.

"And if the coach is stubborn, then it is difficult to work in the Gulf.

"As a coach, you must be able to win the dressing room. The time at the clubs here are limited because they are result orientated and it is not possible to win all the matches.

"It depends on the motivation of the players. If they have a goal they will show discipline and they [Al Wahda players] showed that when we won the league because they had this goal in mind to play at the Club World Cup.

"This season they were mentally not prepared because they were unhappy for different reasons. They were demotivated and had lost their two best defenders - Hamdan Al Kamali [on a six-month loan to Lyon, the French Ligue 1 club] and Basheer Saeed [moved to Al Ahli].

"Nevertheless, even without these two we managed to be the third best defence in the league.

"But the fans of Wahda had big dreams like always. Their expectations exceeded the realities. This is a big problem in the Gulf. If the results cannot match the dreams of the officials then there is only one person to be blamed - the coach."

Hickersberger said he believes the Pro League need to do more work to become fully professional, stressing that some players, although talented, do not push themselves hard enough.

"The important thing is education and that starts from the nurseries for both players and officials," he said. "It is difficult to start teaching them professionalism when they reach the age of 20.

"For sure, they are working on this and will achieve it to some level but they will never reach a level of a German or a European player in professionalism for a long, long time.

"They certainly have room to improve, like the age group team that has reached the London Games. This is something special because they have not achieved anything like this since reaching the World Cup in 1990.

"Most of the players have got talent and some good qualities. But sometimes they don't have that hunger like in other places because they are content with what they have in life.

"Bahrain - for such a small country and limited number of players - came twice close to reaching the World Cup final. So the potential is there ... The Pro League is improving all the time and they have some very good coaches at all the clubs."

On his time at the Al Nahyan Stadium, Hickersberger said: "I can't complain on the time I spent at Wahda. I had more than three-and-a-half years and I had some success when I had all the players available.

"Wahda will be a good team again if all the players will be available and with some quality foreign players. But if it will be the same situation like this season, then they will have a very tough time.

"I will keep on watching them and reading about them wherever I am.

"I like all the players, even the nasty players with good qualities on the pitch. And to be able to do that you sometimes need to turn a blind eye on some of the things they would be doing."

Wahda only lost four times in the league this season, but drew more games (nine) than any other team. They XXXXXXXX UPDATE AFTER TONIGHTS GAMES

"It is a decent season for a team that has played the majority of their games without the full side because either they were on national duty or injured," Hickersberger said.

apassela@thenational.ae

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