The Croatian manager of the capital club turned to a compatriot to be his man and mentor on the field, writes Amith Passela.
'Elder brother' Srdan Andric is dictating Al Wahda's play
At a time when Branko Ivankovic has been given the task of blooding some of the youngsters at Al Wahda after replacing Josef Hickersberger as coach, an experienced player whom he has known for a decade was sure to come as a welcome addition.
Enter Srdan Andric, whose versatility and ability to fit in any role required since arriving from Hadjuk Split has worked well for Wahda as the Pro League reaches its halfway point this week with the Abu Dhabi side currently sitting in sixth place
"We signed Srdan because we needed such a player for this important position," Ivankovic said.
"He is a player who can play in two or three positions, and he has already shown what he can do on the pitch.
"I am very satisfied and the club management is very satisfied with him. He is one of our key players. I know him for more than 10 years as a player and when I was asked for a third foreign player for the club Srdan came to my mind."
The Croatian coach said his compatriot's ability to lead by example had been a key factor in bringing him to Abu Dhabi.
"OK, he is 32 but he has not lost any of the quality as a player," he added. "I recommended him because I knew him as a senior pro and the captain of Hajduk Split, one of the biggest clubs in Croatia.
"All the young players will benefit from him and learn from his experience. With him on the pitch I can have a better communication with the team.
"He also plays a very central role to control the game and to carry out my instructions. And more importantly he has earned the respect of all the players."
Ivankovic took charge of Wahda in the summer after the club management had offloaded the Brazilian trio - Fernando Baiano, Magrao, and Hugo - along with several older players.
"It is a new team with a lot of youngsters and my task was to prepare them while trying to get the best results in all competitions," Ivankovic, who was signed on a two-year deal, said.
Andric has never worked with Ivankovic before he joined Wahda but the working relationship between the two Croats has blossomed in their short time working together.
"I only knew him as a coach," Andric said.
"It is a bit difficult to do exactly what the coach wants me to do because of the language problem [with the Emirati players] but it is going good."
Adapting to life away from Europe in the Middle East has not proven difficult for Andric.
"People around me are treating me well and I am happy," he said. "I live with my wife close to the club. So it is training and back to my apartment which takes all my time.
"When I am free I just laze around in my apartment. Sometimes I go to the beach or go around the city as there are a lot of nice places to spend time."
When Andric was contacted for a move to Abu Dhabi in the summer, the first point of contact was his Hajduk Split teammate Ahmad Sharbini, who had played for Wahda in the 2007/2008 season.
"He gave me all the information and suggested me to accept the offer," he said. "I never knew or heard of any Emirati players other than some of the foreigners who plied their trade.
"But having arrived here, I must say there are a lot of very good foreign players in this league, which I didn't know about when I was first approached with the offer. There are a lot of good Emiratis too, particularly those younger players."
Andric says he was like any other kid who enjoyed playing football but was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to make it as a professional.
"In Croatia a majority of the kids play football but not many make it to the top flight. I left home when I was 14-plus to play football at Dubrovnik and lucky to be what I am now."
Andric had to sit out Wahda's 2-1 defeat to Al Ain on Monday due to suspension, but he believed the team could take heart from their display against the league leaders.
"We couldn't get a good result but the players showed that they can play against any big team," he said.
"We lost to Al Nasr and Ajman earlier because of some silly individual mistakes but otherwise we have done well so far. The performance against Al Ain is a very big boost for us ahead of the derby against Al Jazira [on Saturday]."
Andric appears to have had exactly the kind of impact at Wahda that Ivankovic was hoping for, as he has proven to be a hit with his Emirati teammates. "He is very quiet and friendly person," Mohammed Al Shehhi, the Wahda forward, said.
"We respect him as an older brother and in our culture it commands a lot of respect for the person. And he is that type of personality, disciplined, calm and composed.
"At training he guides the younger players to improve their skills and in a game he not only marshals the moves but he comes in support behind every move whether it is in attack or defence."
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE