x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Farias reviving the fortunes of Al Wasl

The league season is young, but Al Wasl have reason to be happy with their progress so far: the Panthers share top spot alongside Baniyas.

The league season is young, but Al Wasl have reason to be happy with their progress so far: the Panthers share top spot alongside Baniyas. 

Wasl have not even been in the proximity of that position since winning the league and President's Cup double in 2007. The last three seasons have seen much upheaval, with the team finishing seventh as defending champions in 2008. 

Worse followed in the next season as disappointed fans staged a sit-in and boycotted a home game over the team's poor performances. The management reacted by sacking four coaches through the season, but the club still finished seventh.

Last season started with hope as Wasl invested heavily in players. They paid US$8 million (Dh29.4m) to lure the playmaker Douglas dos Santos from Brazilian Cup-winners Corinthians. Blas Perez, Panama's national team striker, arrived to lead the attack. The Omani international Mohammed al Shaiba was brought in to bolster the defence. Alexandre Guimaraes, a former coach of the Costa Rican and Panama national teams, was hired to lead the seven-time league champions. But Perez and Dos Sontos were big disappointments, Guimaraes failed to last and the club finished fifth.

This year, however, promises to be different. Sergio Farias, the Brazilian who took the South Korean club Pohang Steelers to the Asian Champions League title last year, seems to have brought a new ethic and strategy to the club. On the evidence of Wasl's four matches, Farias seems to have settled on a counter-attacking game. In Alexandre Oliviera and Francisco Yeste, the coach seems to have the right men for the job.

Oliviera, who arrived at Wasl in 2005 and has survived the culls that mark every season's end, has certainly been enjoying his new role. As always, he has been buzzing around defences and creating chances. Yeste, 30, who played for Athletic Bilbao in the Spanish league for more than a decade, has brought class and creativity to the midfield. His quality became apparent in the stunning goal he scored against Al Wahda in his first match of the Pro League season.

Al Shaibah, the club's third foreign professional, also has put on an impressive show with tough tackling at the back. Behind al Shaibah, Wasl have some of the safest hands in the business guarding their net. A bit temperamental in his early years, Majed Nasser, 26, has matured and now is among the top two in the national team. While Farias has managed to get the best out of these four, he has also not been short in giving confidence and responsibility to the other Emirati players. Wasl are the only team in the league using two Emirati strikers, with Rashid Essa, Maher Jassim and Saeed al Kas sharing the responsibilities.

Khalid Darwish, put on the transfer market last season, has been given the captain's armband, and the responsibility has acted as a spur for the diminutive playmaker. After the turbulence of recent years, Darwish will be keen to lead Wasl to a title, or at least a place in the Asian Champions League. Fans can hope for that. Farias' team may not be spectacular, but he has assembled an effective unit.