x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Bringing Sand to the desert has paid off for Al Ain

They outbid Spain's Valencia for Argentina's goalscoring machine, and he is proving to be worth every dirham.

Al Ain's Jose Sand scores from the penalty spot in Pro League action against Dubai.
Al Ain's Jose Sand scores from the penalty spot in Pro League action against Dubai.

Jose Sand is proving to be worth his weight in goals for Al Ain and is looking to be worth every dirham the Pro League club paid to outbid Valencia, the Spanish giants, for his signature. Last season, Sand topped the scoring chart with 34 goals in all competitions. He is also this season's leading scorer in the league with five goals from three games.

Al Ain snatched Sand from the grasp of Valencia when he was put up for sale by Lanus, the Argentine club, where he scored 51 goals in 68 matches over two seasons from 2007. He also became the first player to top the scoring in two consecutive tournaments since Diego Maradona in 1980. His performances led to Sand winning two internationals caps for Argentina: in a World Cup qualifier against Chile in October, 2008 and in a friendly against Panama in May, 2009.

He feels he made the right move coming to the UAE. "I don't think I have any regrets," he said. "I have had a wonderful season here and am looking forward to another with a trophy or two." Al Ain reportedly paid US$10 million (Dh36.7m) for Sand, who signed on a two-year deal and played under three different coaches in his first season at the club. One was Winfried Schaefer, with whom he started by winning the Super Cup, the curtain-raiser match between the league champions and the winner of the President's Cup.

The German was sacked in December and replaced by Toninho Cerezo, the Brazilian. He too was fired, and Al Ain decided to appoint Abdulhameed al Mishtiki, the club's Under 17 team coach, to take charge as caretaker. The Emirati kept the job after leading them in five matches without defeat and a third-place finish in the league and a play-off place in the Asian Champions League. "It doesn't matter with whom I work," Sand said. "I know my job and I can work under any coach. I carry out the orders from whoever is in charge. I also don't care with whom I play. I play for a team and I want to give 100 per cent and my team win all the trophies."

Sand established wonderful partnerships with Jorge Valdivia, the Chile midfielder, and Marcio Emerson, the Brazilian forward, in his first season at the club. But both his fellow expatriates decided to leave, and their replacements, the Ivorians Ibrahima Keita and Jomma Saeed, are sidelined with injuries. It has not prevented Sand from scoring though. "We shouldn't undermine the contributions of the Emirati players," he said. "They play a big role, as much as the foreign players, and they have been able to provide me a steady supply inside the box.

"The three games and the President's Cup opening round have gone well for us, and it's just a matter of continuing the good work. The next against Al Wahda is a very tough one, but we are confident." Sand grew up wanting to emulate Gabriel Batistuta, the Argentine striker who played in 78 games and scored 56 goals for his country from 1991 to 2002. "He was my role model and I wanted to play like him," Sand said. "I couldn't match his playing style but I succeeded in becoming a striker, strong inside the box."

Sand leads a modest lifestyle and does not believe in extravagant clothing or flashy cars. His sole pastime, besides spending time with his wife and 20-month-old son, Benjamin, is owning and breeding race horses. "I like to watch the races in Dubai but don't get the chance because we either play or train on those days," he said. "I spend most of the free time with my wife and son in the malls around the country. My wife is a great cook and she does my favourite dishes, barbecues.

"Sometimes I meet up with my colleagues at the club and join them for a fun outing or dinner. I enjoy their company. I have a problem in communicating with them, but I don't feel out of place because they always make me comfortable in their company." Sand played a significant role in helping Lanus win their first Argentine league in his first season, in 2007, scoring 15 goals in 15 games. He became a crowd favourite and the fans nicknamed him "Pepe". He looks back fondly on his time in Argentina.

"I hope to continue that form with Al Ain and it has been so-far-so-good for me. But my performance alone will not satisfy me if my club will not win any trophies." @Email:apassela@thenational.ae