x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Abdulraheem Jumaa looking to re-establish himself at Al Wahda

The midfielder believes he can play on for another two or three years as he continues his recovery from a second knee operation.

Abudulraheem Jumaa made his first-team debut at Al Wahda back in 1997.
Abudulraheem Jumaa made his first-team debut at Al Wahda back in 1997.

The training session is over and the players retreat to the comfort of the changing room.

But Abdulraheem Jumaa was heading to the gymnasium for his daily exercise routine to strengthen his troublesome right knee that has twice required surgery.

It is a familiar pattern for the Al Wahda midfielder who is facing the biggest challenge of his distinguished career: the battle to return to top-flight competition.

It was only four years ago that Jumaa led his country at the 2007 Asian Cup.

At 31, he should be at the peak of his powers and the cornerstone of Srecko Katanec's team but, instead, has been forced to watch events in Doha from afar as a frustrated spectator.

In fact, it was at the region's premier international tournament in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam four years ago that Jumaa's problems began.

"I twisted my knee in the Qatar match and the pain was unbearable," Jumaa said, recalling the 2-1 defeat.

"I realised it was serious and it was confirmed after a scan. It was in the second half.

"I had possession and was moving with the ball past a couple of players when it happened. It's hard to say how it happened."

Jumaa missed the second half of the 2007/08 domestic season and was sidelined for more than a year.

He returned in time for the national team's World Cup qualifying matches the following year, but it proved a false dawn.

"I felt discomfort on the injured leg again in the middle of last season and had to undergo a second surgery," Jumaa said.

The lay-off period was only three months this time but the rehabilitation was just as painstaking and the frustration of being unable to play was just as acute.

This time, however, the signs look more encouraging.

Jumaa made his comeback as a substitute in the 1-0 defeat to Al Nasr in the Etisalat Cup in November and has eased himself back since, playing as a substitute in matches in the Pro League, Etisalat Cup and the Club World Cup where he scored Wahda's third goal in a 3-0 win over Hekari United.

More significantly, his first start since his second operation came against Al Dhafra at the end of last month, though he is yet to complete a full 90 minutes.

"I am back and feel much better," Jumaa said.

"Hopefully I will able to play the full 90 minutes very soon."

Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach, is full of admiration for the character his midfielder has shown in adversity.

"One has to admire him for his courage," Hickersberger said. "He has worked his way back in the club's first team after two surgeries on his knee.

"It is a very difficult decision for a footballer to give up and Abdulraheem is going through that. I admire his courage and the workload he had done to return to the first-team squad, and for that reason he must be in the team."

The Austrian coach is looking forward to the day when he can again name Jumaa in his starting XI on a regular basis.

"Abdulraheem at his peak is a great asset for any team," Hickersberger said.

"He is an intelligent player with an excellent football mind, and possesses all the attributes of a player who can control the game from his position as a central midfielder.

"I am not sure if he will be the same player as he was five or six years ago.

"I can feel his heart pleading, but he is determined to continue with his work. I am hopeful to see more of him in the second half of the season."

Hickersberger feels the team will not only benefit from Jumaa's qualities as a midfielder on the pitch but also his positive influence in the dressing room and the encouragement he gives the club's younger players.

"He is one of the most respected players in the country, simply because of the way he carries himself around on and off the field," Hickersberger said.

"He is also a very keen student despite being a senior player in the club.

"And beyond, he is a wonderful human being. He is soft spoken, humble and respects everyone, from the minor staff to his senior colleagues."

Jumaa is determined to return to full fitness and force his way back into the Wahda team for the second half of the league season.

"It is the biggest challenge of my career," Jumaa said.

"I still want to play for my team, not because of my reputation as a senior player, but earn my place through hard work and merit.

"Right now I am not thinking of playing for the national team. If I regain my place in the club line-up and if the national team coach thinks that I am good enough for a return, so be it.

"I feel I can play for another two to three years."

The softly-spoken midfielder has won a President's Cup, four league titles and scored at the Club World Cup, but he cites representing the UAE when they hosted the Gulf Cup in 2007 as the high point of his career.

He made his first-team debut for Wahda in 1997 and was in the national team two years later, scoring on his debut in a friendly against Singapore.

The day he won his first cap for his country was a proud moment for a family with a rich footballing pedigree.

His father, Jumaa Ambar, played for Al Jazira while his two brothers, Abdulsalam and Ahmed, have also played for the national team.

"Football came naturally to us," Jumaa said.

"My father encouraged and helped us in those formative years.

"I trained at Jazira for one year and when my father left for a job as manager of Al Wahda, we all moved.

"I was around 10 when I started at Wahda and it has been home for me ever since."

The football dynasty could continue as Jumaa is the father of four and he hopes his two sons, Zayed, six, and Saif, four, can follow in the family footsteps.

"I spend my free time playing football with them," Jumaa said.

"Spending time with my family is all that I do when I am not playing.

"It is not easy to decide the future of our children.

"I can only hope they will have an interest in the game and pursue it as a career."

 

apassela@thenational.ae