x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dubai is where the heart is for Al Wasl's Oliveira

Despite receiving offers to play in Japan and the option to make a return home to Brazil, the Al Wasl winger and his family are content in the UAE.

Oliveira, right, has worn the No 17 jersey, made famous by UAE and Al Wasl legend Fahad Khamees, throughout his stint.
Oliveira, right, has worn the No 17 jersey, made famous by UAE and Al Wasl legend Fahad Khamees, throughout his stint.

If you could describe Alexandre Oliveira in the barest terms, you would call him a survivor. The Brazilian arrived at Al Wasl in 2005 and remains an automatic starter for the team, still a scourge for opposing defences, still scoring crucial goals.

Oliveira has seen the transition of the Pro league from amateur to professional; he has been a part of Wasl's highs, when they won the league and cup double in 2007, and the lows in the following seasons.

It would be difficult to find foreign professionals from the batch of 2005 still plying their trade in the country. Karim Kerkar, currently with Emirates, and Dubai's Gregory Dufrennes are exceptions, but both have played for different clubs during this time.

Oliveira, however, has been with Wasl right through and can now laugh at the advice he was getting back in Brazil when he first received the offer.

"We had heard a lot about the war in Iraq and all the bombings," he said. "It was always on the news. So when I got this offer, I tried to compare the location of the UAE with Iraq on a map. They seemed very close.

"I also spoke to some people and they advised me not to go. The Wasl officials, however, managed to convince me and here I am. I was scared … I did not want to come to Dubai and now I don't want to return."

Before arriving in the UAE, Oliveira had turned out for seven different clubs in Brazil, starting his career in 2000 with a two-year stint at Atletico Paranaense. He was 21 then and a bit of a late starter in a country that worships the game.

Oliveira, however, was determined to complete his academic studies first before devoting himself to football. He also met his wife on the university campus.

"Come to Brazil and you will see the craze for football," he said. "They are playing right through the day. You wake up in the morning and look outside the window, they are playing football on the streets; in the afternoon, it's the same thing, same every hour of the day.

"For me, both academics and football were equally important. So I went to college and played football, and took to the game full time only after completing college."

Oliveira is 32 now and hopes to continue playing until he is 37, preferably at Wasl. He is a darling of the fans there and played a crucial role in the 2006/07 season when the Panthers won the President's Cup and the league.

The Brazilian, usually playing on the wings, scored six goals in the league campaign that season and made many assists; overall he has scored 44 league goals, wearing the same jersey number, 17, as Fahad Khamees, a legend of UAE and Wasl football.

"At first, they were going to give me No 20, but then I got this number," Oliveira said. "Then Fahad told me this was his number. I know the history of this great figure in UAE football and his name will never be forgotten at Wasl.

"I know he is the leading goalscorer in the league and the best striker that the UAE has produced. I am proud to wear the same number as him."

Wearing that jersey and the support he receives from the stands, according to Oliveira, motivates him to do even better on the pitch. Success for the club, however, has been elusive since 2007. They finished seventh in the league in the following two seasons, before improving on their position by two places in 2010.

Currently, they are fourth in the league with 27 points - one behind Al Shabab and four behind Baniyas.

"I have good memories of the 2006/07 season here and we all are waiting for a repeat of that success," Oliveira said. "But we know the league is getting tougher every year.

"Now all the big players are coming here - [Jorge] Valdivia, Emerson, [Fernando] Baiano, [Rafael] Sobis and Ricardo Oliveira. All the big players in Brazil now look at the UAE because they know the league here is getting better and better. It is difficult to play here, not easy. When the players from Brazil come here, they think it is easy here, but when you step inside the ground, you know it is difficult."

Many of these top players have come and gone, but Oliveira has stayed on and hopes to set up a permanent base in the UAE.

"My family is here with me and they like Dubai a lot," he said. "Frankly, we are excited about the possibility of staying in Dubai on a permanent basis and finishing my career with Al Wasl.

"I had some offers from Japan, but when I spoke to the management here, they said, 'No, Oliveira, you stay here because we like you.' But I know I have to play good to stay on. Or I will have to go to another team.

"I respect all the supporters. They have helped me a lot here. So my first choice will always be Al Wasl. I had offers before, but I have stayed with the club.

"It is not for the money or anything, but because I like this team and the people here, they are like my second family. I know all the players and the staff. So I want to stay here."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae