x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Josef Hickersberger fits the bill for Wahda

With experience of World Cup finals, the European Championships and the Champions League, Hickersberger is the right man to lead Pro League champions at the Club World Cup.

Now that Josef Hickersberger has returned as coach, perhaps it is a bit naive to declare that "all is right in the world" at Al Wahda. But only just.

Everything now is as it should be and Wahda are led by the man who moulded the side into the irresistible force that dominated the 2009/10 Pro League season, winning a championship and earning the host-country a berth in the Club World Cup (CWC), to be held in Abu Dhabi next month.

Given the almost desperate yearning in the Football Association (FA) for the league champions to taste success when the world turns its eyes to the capital, it seemed strange that Wahda allowed Hickersberger to leave, in June, and even more perverse with the hindsight of five tumultuous months. It was about contracts, of course, and misunderstandings led to unfortunate detours.

Hickersberger briefly led Bahrain's national team. Wahda, meanwhile, careened from the tyrannical Romanian Laszlo Boloni to the mild Brazilian Adenor "Tite" Leonardo Bacchi and struggled on the pitch. Wahda fired Boloni two weeks into the season and had to consider themselves lucky when Tite returned to Brazil after six weeks in the UAE - the cue for Hickersberger's return.

The suave Austrian, by turns avuncular and demanding, reassumed control of a club discombobulated by months of upheaval, one that seemed to have forgotten how to score.

However, much of what he built remained in place, including all of his first XI, aside from Pinga, the Brazilian midfielder who moved to Al Ahli.

And if it isn't quite accurate to say Wahda is now brimming with confidence, it is only because the new/old coach has just five weeks to bring the club back into fighting trim.

To recap, Hickersberger, 62, has coached in the world's biggest football events, leading Austria to the 1990 World Cup and to Euro 2008, and Rapid Vienna into the Champions League in 2005.

He knows how to wring the most from available talent, which will be required if Wahda are to fulfil FA fantasies and reach a CWC semi-final against the European champions Inter Milan.

The five weeks he has are less than perfect for preparing for the Club World Cup: four key Wahda players are in China with the Olympic team, and five rounds of Etisalat Cup play, which begin today, represent a less-than-intense environment for a man trying to decide on his best 11 for a global event.

Meantime, Hickersberger has plans of his own. He is studying Hekari United of Papau New Guinea, Wahda's first-round opponents in the CWC on December 8. Wahda will send a scout to the Asian Champions League final in Tokyo on November 13, seeing the team Wahda would face on December 11, if they beat Hekari.

He is also weighing up a training camp outside the country from November 20, including a friendly match against a top club side from the region.

Somewhere along the way, he hopes to discover another goalscorer or two to partner Fernando Baiano, the Brazilian forward. That second scorer was Pinga last season. Hickersberger isn't yet sure who it is now, but he concedes he is prepared to sacrifice stolid defence to sharpen his attack. "My first job," he said, "is to find a player who can score goals."

He further fills the bill as the man to take Wahda to the CWC because he understands that results - now - are a condition of a job in the region. "This isn't the English Premier League where a coach might get two, three, four years to prove himself," he said. "We must win. We must. It is simple."

A coach who knows the club, the country and the highest level of international football clearly is the man most likely to do Wahda and the UAE proud.

 

poberjuerge@thenational.ae