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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Goals and leadership make Al Wahda's Sebastian Tagliabue a potential asset to the UAE

The Argentine striker has confirmed interest in playing for Alberto Zaccheroni's side and his scoring record in the Arabian Gulf League underlines his credentials

Al Wahda striker Sebastian Tagliabue has confirmed he is interested in representing the UAE now he is eligible for them. Antonie Robertson / The National
Al Wahda striker Sebastian Tagliabue has confirmed he is interested in representing the UAE now he is eligible for them. Antonie Robertson / The National

Sebastian Tagliabue described it as not only a pleasure, but an honour.

The Argentine forward has spent five years in Abu Dhabi with Al Wahda, a fantastically fertile spell that lifted him to his perch as the most prolific foreign striker in UAE football history.

Now he could be set to represent his adopted country. It is a path made possible by President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed’s November degree, a path that may lead to Tagliabue, previously never capped by Argentina, competing for the UAE.

That, potentially, opens up a place in the 2019 Asian Cup squad for the tournament the UAE are hosting next January.

On the surface, what Tagliabue would bring to the national team is obvious. Since joining Wahda in 2013, he has scored 153 goals in 173 matches in all competitions. In the league alone, he has found the net 111 times, unrivalled for an overseas player.

Known for a fierce work ethic and a dedication to his craft, Tagliabue is a model professional, if a little fiery in the heat of battle. Although a frontman, he has been sent off four times in the past four seasons.

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But his application and aptitude would be a welcome addition to the UAE.

Asked on Wednesday what he would provide the national team, should the citizenship be processed, Tagliabue replied with a smile: “what do you think? I will give everything”.

His exploits in UAE football certainly back that up. Instrumental in Wahda’s recent success – Tagliabue has helped the club to a President’s Cup crown, two Arabian Gulf Cup titles and two Super Cup victories, not to mention twin runner-up finishes in the league – he is a leader both on the pitch and off it. He has often captained the side.

Away from football, Tagliabue genuinely enjoys living in the Emirates. His children are settled. In all, he has lived in the region since 2010 having spent three years in Saudi Arabia prior to joining Wahda.

However, at 33, Tagliabue constitutes a short-term option for the UAE, no matter how well he looks after himself physically. Also, it remains to be seen where he would slot into Alberto Zaccheroni’s side.

At present, Ali Mabkhout is the spearhead to the attack, with the Al Jazira striker's goalscoring increasing considerably since his club has employed him more centrally.

Even though Tagliabue boasts his own impressive record, the two do not seem an obvious fit in the current UAE set-up.

Mabkhout scored twice in Tuesday's 3-0 friendly victory against Laos and, through the early weeks of the new season, looks fit and focused.

Top scorer at the 2015 Asian Cup, the next tournament, on home soil in January, can offer only added incentive.

Tagliabue’s inclusion would give Zaccheroni a headache of sorts, although some would argue it is a nice problem to have. Particularly given Ahmed Khalil's recurring fitness issues, particularly when the Laos victory was the first time the UAE have scored more than once in a match during Zaccheroni's tenure. In 12 games, they have only six goals.

In time, Tagliabue could set a precedent. Others might follow, with Al Wasl’s Caio and Fabio De Lima close to eligibility, although representing the UAE national team would have to appeal to the Brazilian duo.

There are questions as well as to how the inclusion of expats would impact the development of Emirati talent going forward.

Still, Tagliabue may be the trailblazer. It highlights how UAE football is on the verge of real and rapid change.

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