x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Al Wasl trio 'motivated' to play for Maradona in the UAE

The three South American players deny any stress or language being a barrier. Instead, the ball will do the talking, they say.

Argentine Mariano Donda, left, and Chile's Edson Puch looked at ease with each other at the news conference in Dubai.
Argentine Mariano Donda, left, and Chile's Edson Puch looked at ease with each other at the news conference in Dubai.

DUBAI // They came together only last week, but they already are Al Wasl's "Three Amigos", the trio of Spanish-speaking South American imports around whom Diego Maradona hopes to build a league-winning team.

"To play for him is an honour," said Mariano Donda, a midfielder from Argentina. "I am happy to be here for this new venture, and especially under Diego Maradona, who was the best player in the world."

Donda was joined at Wasl yesterday by the Uruguayan striker, Juan Manuel Olivera, and the Chilean midfielder, Edson Puch, at a press conference to introduce them to members of the local media.

They denied feeling extra stress to prove their worth in Maradona's Wasl side, who are likely to receive international scrutiny because of the notoriety of the manager.

"It's not pressure," said Puch, "quite the contrary. I think we are motivated here at Wasl and to play for Diego Maradona, but it's not stress. It's an excitement about playing and a yearning to start the season and create great results."

Olivera and Donda were hand-picked by Maradona, the Fifa co-player of the 20th century (with Pele), and Argentina coach at the 2010 World Cup.

"Maradona called me and wanted me," Donda said, smiling at the memory. "This is a good thing, a good pressure. This is a great opportunity for me."

Donda, 29, played for Godoy Cruz, the Argentine side, and Bari of Italy's Serie A before. He likely will be used as a holding midfielder in Wasl's 4-2-3-1 formation.

Puch, 25 and a former Chilean international, last played at Universidad de Chile. The compact midfielder is expected to take up an attacking role on the left side.

Olivera, 30, is a tall and lean striker who will be at the apex of the Wasl attack. He scored a startling 37 goals in 42 matches in 2009/10 with Universidad de Chile, and most recently played with Penarol in Montevideo.

The triumvirate clearly are individuals. Olivera is the elder statesman, a husband and father who has played in leagues from China to South Korea, Chile and Saudi Arabia.

Puch is the eager little brother, liberally tattooed and playing outside his homeland for the first time. Donda projects an almost European hipster sophistication; he has closely cropped hair and a cool detachment.

But the three already seem at ease with each other and their surroundings.

Olivera and Puch played together on the 2009/10 Universidad de Chile club that won a domestic championship. Olivera and Donda were acquainted before they arrived, and Donda landed in Dubai knowing chapter and verse of the life and times of Diego Armando Maradona, his compatriot.

They also are linked by language. Spanish is one of the most-spoken tongues in the world, but few in the UAE understand it.

"The three of us all speaking Spanish, it's very important," Donda said. "I will be alone for eight months far from my country and my language, but I know I will be able to speak to my teammates and the coaches."

The trio are still getting to know their Emirati teammates, but they expect few difficulties integrating into the side.

"We don't speak much because they have another culture," Donda said. "But our professional culture is on the field, and that is where we need to demonstrate that we are friends, that we are brothers.

"The ball will talk."

They also are adjusting to the local climate; each came to the UAE from the southern hemisphere, where it is winter. Each is expected to play tonight when Maradona makes his UAE coaching debut in a home friendly against Kalba, the Division One side.

Each of the amigos resisted suggestions that Wasl should be expected to win the league.

"We will try very hard," Donda said. "All we can promise is that we will work very hard and play like professionals."

Said Olivera: "For me, the coach and the team, I hope we have a good year. We know it's a strong league with big players, but if we are training well and if we play as a team, we can finish very well."

 

poberjuerge@thenational.ae