x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Audacious Francisco Yeste is a real hit at Wasl and on the internet

His cheeky goal against Al Ain made him a viral sensation. Ahmed Rizvi talks to the Spaniard about his debut season with Al Wasl.

Francisco Yeste, centre, Al Wasl’s attacking midfielder, says he found it hard to adjust upon arriving in Dubai.
Francisco Yeste, centre, Al Wasl’s attacking midfielder, says he found it hard to adjust upon arriving in Dubai.

Francisco Yeste has been a favourite of Al Wasl fans since scoring on his debut for the Dubai club. More recently, however, he has gained a cult following among football's online community.

The reason is "The Fastest Equaliser in the History of Football", the perhaps-not-quite-accurate title given by a Dutch website to Yeste's audacious goal against Al Ain in the Etisalat Cup semi-finals last month.

The date was March 10. Al Ain had levelled through Ismail Ahmed after Essa Ali had given Wasl the lead. Ahmed's goal was clocked at 49 minutes 27 seconds. But only 27 seconds later, Yeste had put his side in the lead again.

Al Ain were celebrating their goal and their goalkeeper, Dawoud Suleiman, had left his line to join in. Yeste approached the ball on the halfway line after the referee had blown his whistle and took one look at the keeper, who was still far off his line. Al Ain's Ali al Wehaibi sensed Yeste's intentions and gestured for his keeper to get back, but it was too late.

Yeste wasted no time and floated the ball over Suleiman and into the net. The goal, clocked at 49 minutes 54 seconds, became an instant hit, a viral sensation that spread across the internet within hours.

Talking about the goal still brings a twinkle to Yeste's eyes. "Yeah, I had a lot of time to plan it," the Spaniard joked.

"You cannot plan for such goals," he said. "It is very difficult. But in that game I just saw and I shot."

That goal is not the only reason for Yeste's popularity among Wasl fans. He has scored 10 goals for the team in the Pro League, 13 in all domestic competitions, and each of them shows the class of the man who received a call-up to the Spain team in 2004.

Yeste, 31, had been part of Spain's youth and juniors teams earlier, including the Under 20 squad that won the 1999 Youth World Cup in Nigeria, defeating Japan 4-0 in the final.

Commentators have described him as one of the most talented footballers to emerge from Athletic Bilbao's academy at Lezama, a town in the Basque region. But given Spain's current riches of talent, Yeste never played for the Spain senior national team.

The attacking midfielder, however, was a regular in the Primera Liga with Athletic Bilbao, making more than 330 appearances for them. He spent 11 years of his professional career at San Mames, making his first-team debut in 1999.

In the latter half of his career with Bilbao, Yeste picked up a reputation for being temperamentally volatile. Between 2007 and 2009, he was sent off five times and received 14 yellow cards.

The more famous of his skirmishes was with the Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas in a 5-2 home defeat in March 2009. Casillas went down clutching his face after being pushed by Yeste and the player was sent off.

"He did not hit me in the face, but he did push me really hard and deserved to be expelled," Casillas said later.

Reminded of the incident and his reputation in Spain, Yeste just shrugged. "It's football," he said, gesturing to show how he pushed down Casillas. "But no, I don't have an attitude problem. I play hard and try to give everything I have on the pitch."

The Al Wasl players standing nearby nodded in agreement and Ahmed Khalifa, Wasl's media officer, refused to believe Yeste might have anger management issues. He has not been booked, at all, in 16 Pro League games.

"The Al Wasl fans also like him, the players like him, the management likes him," Khalifa said. "Everybody likes him here and he has been a valuable addition to the squad."

Still, Yeste's perceived attitude problems led to Joaquin Caparros, the Bilbao coach, ousting him for a month in the 2009/10 season. In his first match back, Yeste was booked again.

His contract with Bilbao expired at the end of that season. Unhappy with the new offer from the club, Yeste decided to take the plunge with Al Wasl even as the Bilbao management fixed a meeting with him for fresh talks.

"In Spain, my team did not make a good offer," Yeste said. "So I thought it would be better for me to go outside."

Marwan bin Bayat, the vice chairman of the Wasl board, and Swaidan Saeed Juma al Naboodah, a board member, approached Yeste for talks around that time and it did not take them long to convince the Spaniard to sign a two-year contract.

"Yes, Al Wasl made a good offer, but more important was the talk I had with Swaidan and Marwan," Yeste said. "They told me about the club and the players - very good team, very good players, very good people. That was more important for me."

Many foreign players struggle on their arrival in this country, but Yeste got straight down to business, scoring on his league debut, a 2-0 win over the defending champions Al Wahda. The goals have not stopped, but Yeste conceded he had struggled initially.

"It was too much difficult," he said. "My first month, second month here for me was very tough. I had to get used to the conditions; the life here is very different to what I am used to - the training time, the food, everything was a big challenge.

"The weather is very different in Spain. Here, too much humidity and heat. So for me, it was very difficult to adapt. The family was also not here, they were in Spain. But that's normal for anyone going to a new place.

"Now, I am in a much better condition. I trained very hard to get used to these conditions and the football here, to improve myself and my utility to the team.

"When I came here, my life was difficult; but it's very good now. My family is here also and I feel a lot more comfortable."

Yeste is enjoying his role as mentor to Wasl's younger players and hopes his team can finish in the top three this season. With six rounds to go, Wasl are fourth on 24 points, three behind Al Shabab. Al Jazira lead the table with 40 and Baniyas are on 30.

"I believe we can finish third in the league; it's possible," Yeste said. "Second is more difficult, but third is within our reach and all the players will be fighting hard to get that position.

"We have a good team here, but this is a very tough league, with any team able to beat the other. But the players are very determined and we are working hard.

"I speak to them, especially the youngsters, and try to pass on my experience - in training, in the gym, during matches and generally about life outside. This is most important for me.

"I like my team and I am very happy here. So definitely I would like to continue at the club. Of course, I can't play here for as long as I did with Bilbao: I would be 45. But yes, I hope to stay for a long time."

arizvi@thenational.ae