x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Al Wahda favourite Papa Waigo proving a hit with fans and players

The Senegalese forward has proved a hit with teammates and supporters with his goals and celebrations, writes Amith Passela.

Papa Waigo, right, the Al Wahda forward, has scored eight goals in the Pro League since his move to the UAE last summer. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Papa Waigo, right, the Al Wahda forward, has scored eight goals in the Pro League since his move to the UAE last summer. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

A familiar sight after a match at Al Wahda is young fans staying back after a victory to chant the name of the club's cult hero, Papa Waigo.

It was Waigo who was hoisted on to the shoulders of Wahda supporters after the club's 2-1 President's Cup quarter-final victory over Al Jazira on Sunday - despite the fact the Senegalese striker did not score.

Saeed Al Kathiri, the Emirati international who came on as a late substitute, scored the winner after the Brazilian Marcelo Oliveira had put them ahead in the victory over their arch-rivals.

Fahed Al Mansouri, the burly cheerleader of the club, said Waigo is popular among the fans because he is considered their top foreign player as well as their best at celebrating goals.

"That is the main reason he is so popular among the fans," Al Mansouri said. "He can play at every position he has been tasked with and then delivers. The other is the manner in which he celebrates his goals. He knows how to get the crowd behind him with his antics, which has caught on well with the fans, particularly the young.

"This guy knows how to entertain. He is amazing to watch after he has scored. The crowd loves it.

"He always turns to the crowd as if to say the goal is for us. That reaction is an excellent gesture, to give something back to the fans who come to the stadiums."

His celebration after scoring is known as the "Waigo Dance", which has been remarked upon throughout his career, both in Italy and England. His dance has been viewed tens of thousands of times on YouTube.

One video teaches the dance, describing it as the thrusting out of the left arm while striding with the right leg, extending the right arm while striding with the left, then back to the left arm and right leg, capped by Waigo patting himself twice on the neck.

"Whatever it may be, the crowds love it," Al Mansouri said. "Fans come for the matches not only to back the team but also to enjoy some spectacular moments, and Waigo has provided that to them.

"I have seen many players celebrating in different ways after scoring but Waigo does it better. It is spectacular and funny. I think everyone enjoys the occasion, be it live at the stadium or on TV."

Despite his eccentric celebration, Waigo otherwise is all business on the pitch.

"Apart from his good work in training he has loads of skills, talent and strength, both physically and mentally," said Branko Ivankovic, the Wahda coach.

"He is versatile and can play any role. We play him on the wing but he's not restricted to play that role alone because he has the permission to change positions as required during the game.

"His athleticism is incredible. He is tall, strong and quick. He can score as well as draw the defenders out of their positions to create space for his teammates.

"He has been our main scorer and a key foreign player for us in the first half of the season. I feel he will get better with the experience and hopefully score more for us."

Waigo tops the club's scoring charts with a dozen goals in 22 games in all competitions.

At the age of 29, he counts 15 caps for his country. He spent most of a decade in Italy: three seasons with Verona, two with Cesena and half a season with Genoa before joining Fiorentina in 2008. The Florence club loaned him three times, including to Southampton in England for the 2009/10 season when he scored five goals in 35 appearances.

On his return from the loan period, Waigo was transferred to the Serie B side Ascoli in 2011 before moving to Wahda on a two-year contract in the summer.

Abdullah Salem, the former Wahda captain and now the team manager, said Waigo made friends with all the players in no time.

"He's everyone's favourite and he gets the first invite whenever the players have a get-together," Salem said. "As a person, he's a real character. He can make everyone laugh with his jokes and play-acting. He keeps all of us entertained and that's good for the moral of the team.

"He doesn't carry all these on to the pitch though. He is a different person when he's on the pitch, very serious about his work, whether it is in training or game.

"Being a fan favourite, the Pro League stands a better chance of drawing more crowds to the stadiums with more Papa Waigo-like signings. For us, he is not only a good players but a super entertainer for our fans."