x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Contrasting behaviour of Al Wasl's banned goalkeeper Majed Naser

The UAE international is seen as a friendly person off the field and is popular with teammates and former colleagues, making his controversial actions against Al Ahli so perplexing.

Al Wasl's Majed Naser, centre, is known to be fiercely competitive on the pitch but his actions in the Etisalat Cup semi-final against Al Ahli surprised his teammates and league foes alike.
Al Wasl's Majed Naser, centre, is known to be fiercely competitive on the pitch but his actions in the Etisalat Cup semi-final against Al Ahli surprised his teammates and league foes alike.

Long after Majed Naser hangs up his gloves and boots, the Al Wasl goalkeeper will probably still regret his actions in this week's semi-finals of the Etisalat Cup.

He might be still feel shocked if he watches clips of his moment of madness.

His teammates and friends are certainly shocked by his actions - slapping the opposing coach and allegedly spitting at an opponent - and say that is not the man they know.

"He is not a violent person," said Haidar Ali, the Al Wahda captain, who has played alongside Naser for many years in the national team. "That is why I cannot believe what happened at Al Ahli.

"I have known him for a long time and he is not that kind of a person. He plays hard on the field, but off the field, he is one of the friendliest persons you can find."

Naser had looked absolutely calm as he hugged Al Ahli's Badr Abdulrahman after the 1-0 defeat.

Just behind the two, Quique Sanchez Flores, the Ahli coach, was celebrating with his players and as the Spaniard embraced his Lebanese defender Yousuf Mohammed, he was slapped on the back of the head by Naser.

As Flores turned, he saw Nasser and could only scream "Hey …" before Mohammed and the Ahli striker Faisal Khalil charged towards Naser. Officials of both teams rushed to intervene, but Naser freed himself violently from their grasp and then allegedly spat at Mohammed.

Diego Maradona, the Wasl coach, later said that Sanchez Flores had provoked Naser by making a gesture in the first half "implying Majed is crazy".

He has called for the Ahli coach to be punished, too.

Maradona, however, said he was shocked by his player as well, for he had never seen this side of Naser.

"I am really surprised by his actions," Maradona said. "He has always been very professional. He is one of the top professionals in our team with a lot of experience. I have never seen him do anything that would imply he is a violent person. He has never given me an impression of that sort.

"That is why I am surprised he acted this way. We are all against violence, every one of us here at Al Wasl."

Naser was the only Wasl player Maradona knew by name when he first visited the club last year, before signing his two-year deal. Everyone around was shocked as the Argentine legend called Naser and hugged him.

"He is one the main pillars of the team that we are trying to build here to compete this season and also for next season," Maradona said. "So that is why it saddens me that this happened."

The incident has left Maradona without his first-choice goalkeeper as Naser has been given a 17-match ban by the Disciplinary Committee of the UAE Football Association. It is the second time he has faced a sentence for an act of violence on the field.

In 2007, Naser assaulted a linesman during a match against Al Jazira and he was handed a 13-match ban, which was reduced to five following an appeal.

Given his repeat offence, many might consider Naser to be a tempestuous sort, ready to explode at the slightest spark. But those who know him, swear he is a different person.

John Burridge, the former Blackpool and Newcastle United, goalkeeper who played 771 matches in English and Scottish leagues, has known Nasser for a long time and believes he is a "lovely" man.

"I was the national coach of Oman and, with the international matches, I have known Majed for six or seven years now," said Burridge, who is now the goalkeeping coach at the Wasl academy.

"When I was with the Oman national team, there was a big rivalry [between the two teams], but we have always been very good friends. After the game, we have shook hands and we have been very civilised.

"I have always found him a well mannered, well-educated young man. Ever since I have known Majed, he has been very, very kind to everybody. He will do anything for you."

Burridge, also the oldest player to have appeared in the Premier League when he turned out for Manchester City at the age of 43, also swears by Naser's goalkeeping abilities, which has seen the 27 year old earn 61 caps for the national team. His qualities first came to the fore playing for Fujairah and Wasl brought him to the Zabeel club in 2005.

"He is absolutely world class; he is top drawer," Burridge said. "When I was with the Oman national team, he has made saves against us, which broke my heart and I have cursed him many, many times."

Naser has left many other coaches feeling that way, emerging as one of the best goalkeepers in the country. He played a stellar role as Wasl clinched the league and President's Cup double in 2006/07, but has shown increasing frustration at his team's declining performance since.

Earlier this season, he publicly criticised his underperforming teammates and threatened to leave for a better team, but apologised later for his outburst. He has received many offers in the past, some offering as much as four times of what he gets at Wasl, but he has remained committed to a deal, which keeps him at the club until 2014.

This passion has often seen Naser get into trouble on the pitch and he was once asked about his frequent expulsions and booking at matches.

"The reason, I guess, is my desire to win," he said. "I hate to lose and I hate to see my team playing without any desire to win or at least draw a game. I want them to see Barcelona and learn how to play to win and to entertain the audience."

arizvi@thenational.ae