'Coach on the pitch' returns from knee surgery and he will put back into a leadership role with Al Wasl, writes John McAuley.
Arabian Gulf League: Mariano Donda is back and ready to lead Al Wasl
DUBAI // Al Wasl anticipate Mariano Donda will provide a significant contribution to their 2013/14 campaign, now that the playmaker has returned to full fitness following knee surgery.
The Argentine missed the second half of last season following an injury sustained during training in October. He was able to play in only five matches before having an operation, in Qatar, in January.
Donda, signed by Diego Maradona in 2011, resumed training earlier this summer. He has been pleased with his progress thus far in pre-season. At 31, the attacking midfielder offers much-needed experience in what is a young Wasl squad, as the Dubai club seek to improve on two seasons of frustration.
In 2011/12, they finished eighth, while last term they fared one position worse. The roster has been considerably restyled, though, with Kaio, Milan Susak and Andre Senghor completing a new-look foreign contingent.
As the only remaining expatriate from the pre-Laurent Banide regime – the Frenchman was installed in May as Wasl's new manager – much rests on Donda's shoulders.
Yet the Wasl board are confident their vocal No 8 can handle the added responsibility.
"Mariano has become one of Al Wasl; his blood has changed to yellow," said Hamad bin Lahej, Wasl's vice chairman. "Last year, when he had the injury, he stayed in Dubai and treated himself. He didn't want to leave.
"And the club was behind him, too, always wanting to keep him. Because, what we realised from the past two seasons, is that Mariano's the coach on the pitch; the players trust him. That's why he's a very good support for the team."
Wasl have placed huge faith in their youth-team players for the upcoming Arabian Gulf League, with Fahad Hadeed, the impressive 19-year-old midfielder, who excelled last season, an example of the club's fresh policy.
However, Donda will again act as a mentor to his juniors, much as he did before being sidelined last year.
"It's great that he's coming back to continue that role," Bin Lahej said. "And we hope there will also be this good communication between Mariano and the new players, because he knows the history of the team and can therefore transfer that to his teammates.
"He knows their weaknesses and can encourage them to do their duty for the team."
Wasl have added to their local ranks, too, recruiting Abdullah Essa from Sharjah, Saif Mohammed from Al Wahda and Al Jazira's Ahmed Jumaa.
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