ABU DHABI // There have been many contributing factors to Al Wahda's title triumph, but none more important than the signing of Fernando Baiano, the Brazilian striker, who was the top scorer for the club's city rivals Al Jazira last season. It was Baiano's hat-trick in the 3-0 defeat of Sharjah that clinched the Pro League trophy for Wahda on Friday, the penultimate night of the season.
Baiano scored the winner against Baniyas in the previous game and it was his brace against Jazira on February 14 that put Wahda clear at the top of the table, a lead they never relinquished. Many pundits and coaches at the time believed Jazira were making a big mistake by failing to sign Baiano on a permanent deal after he had scored 35 goals in his first season in the UAE. The Brazilian, who was on loan from the Spanish club Real Murcia last season, was available on a free transfer and was offered a two-year contract worth 5 million (Dh 25.8m) but he was looking for a three-year deal for 9m.
"Baiano's signing was like catching a big fish in your net and was a great bargain deal," said Khalid Awadh, the deputy chief executive officer, who has spent more than 30 years at the club as a player and administrator. "But Baiano's signing wasn't the only factor in us winning the league after five years," added Awadh. "His signing without any doubt was a significant move. There were several other issues and the club chairman, Sheikh Saeed bin Zayed, had resolved them very early before the start of the new season."
"We failed in the last two seasons despite having a strong squad because we had some weak areas, particularly at the back and in the attack. We were winning a lot of matches but conceding a lot of goals, and we also missed a lot of chances because we didn't have a good foreign striker. With Baiano, we knew we had a striker with a proven record in the domestic game. "The other factors were signing Ismail Matar, Haider Ali, Fahad Masoud, Hamdan al Kamali and Mohammed al Shehhi to five-year contracts, so they didn't have to worry about the money and could concentrate on the football."
Other significant moves were retaining Pinga, the Brazilian midfielder, for another year and extending their Austrian manager Josef Hickersberger's deal for a full season after he had taken charge midway through the 2008-09 season from Ahmed Abdulhaleem, the Egyptian. "We added solidity to the team with both the players and the coach," said Awadh. "We created a steady atmosphere and we decided to stick to it. And the culmination of this was winning the league on Friday."
Many of the Wahda players, including the likes of Haider Ali, the captain, Abdulraheem Jumaa, Masoud, Matar, Al Kamali and Al Hosani came from the production line of their academy and many more are set to emerge, with the club having won both the Under 19 and 17 leagues. "We have won three league titles this season with the U19 and U17 included," said Awadh. "Our academy has produced some outstanding players.
"We take a lot of pride with our academy, deemed one of the best in the country. It is a lot of hard work and the results have been very rewarding." The club has planned to officially celebrate their fourth league title in the next few days after the fans and players soaked in their win until the early hours after Friday's victory. The team will take a two-day break before resuming training for their final match with Al Nasr at the Al Nahyan Stadium next Saturday.
Hickersberger also said that Baiano played a massive role and praised the excellent team work that won them the league. "Baiano has done his job well but there are those others who provided him with the opportunities," said Hickersberger. "The final result is because of the all-round contributions from the players, and also those who work behind the scenes, like the club management." firstname.lastname@example.org