x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Ignored at Wasl Shaibah ploughs a successful loan furrow at Al Wahda

Once recommended to Arsenal but ignored from Maradona's line-up, the defender is thriving at Al Wahda.

Mohammed Shaibah, left, has attracted attention from many clubs.
Mohammed Shaibah, left, has attracted attention from many clubs.

Some football players might have been discouraged to have Diego Maradona decide, after one match, that he did not fit into the Argentine legend's plans.

But not Mohammed Shaibah.

Sent on loan from Al Wasl to Al Wahda, the Omani defender has prospered with his new club, and says he has no hard feelings that he lasted just one game at Wasl after signing a four-year contract.

He would, though, surely have taken huge satisfaction from the goal he scored against Wasl last month in a 4-2 Presidents Cup victory.

"Everyone knows that I was loaned not because of I don't have the potential but because the coach wanted a more attacking foreign player in his line-up instead of a defender," Shaibah said.

"Maradona is a great coach and he discussed and explained to me of his decision. As a professional player, I look at such matters more positively. I am happy to play for Wahda. They are a big team and have treated me extremely well."

And Josef Hickersberger, the Al Wahda coach, is happy to have him. "It may be that Maradona's judgement was a bit too early or Shaibah had a poor first game under him, but that's entirely up to the coach to decide on the type of combination he would want," Hickersberger said.

"For us, he has been a good addition. As a person, he is very quiet. On the field, he has good personality. He is fit and strong, and has become a very consistent player for us."

Shaibah, also known as Mohammed Al Balushi, has been a steady presence in the Wahda defence. Hickersberger believes the club would benefit if they were to retain him for the next season after the departures of Hamdan Al Kamali and Basheer Saeed, the central defenders.

Al Kamali moved to Lyon, the Ligue 1 club in France, on a six-month loan, while Saeed crossed over to Al Ahli, the Pro League club in Dubai, during the January transfer window.

In successive games against title-chasing Al Jazira and Wasl last month, it was Shaibah who outshone the much-hyped Al Kamali.

Before accepting Shaibah on loan, Hickersberger said, he received a strong recommendation from Claude de Roy, the former Oman coach.

"When I was told to find out more about Shaibah for a loan-deal, I immediately called up de Roy to get more information," Hickersberger said.

"What I heard from him surprised me. He told me that he once recommended Shaibah to [the Arsenal manager Arsene] Wenger when he had problems with his defence. He then gave me the go-ahead to sign him.

"That was enough for me, and since his move, he has been a source of strength to the team."

Shaibah began his career with Al Nahda in Oman, and later became the first Omani player to play in Africa when he was loaned to Al Ahly of Libya in 2008. He was transferred to Al Arabi of Qatar in the following season where his outstanding work set him apart as a valuable player.

His solid defence and the ability to score goals attracted the attention of a number of international clubs, including AJ Auxerre, the Ligue 1 club, and Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia.

However, it was Wasl who succeeded in securing his signature in 2009 on a one-year loan. The Dubai club signed Shaibah on a new four-year deal last year, but he failed to make an impression on Maradona.

Hickersberger, however, is a believer. "He can read the game well and has all the good qualities of a top-class defender," the Wahda coach said. "He is also very dangerous in attack because he is good in the air and could score goals from the set pieces."

Shaibah had a frustrating start at Wahda. He was sent off in his first game against Al Shabab and was banned for three games for stamping on an opposing player.

Hickersberger defended his player, saying that "a three-match ban was very harsh" and "it was difficult start for any player".

"I play my game hard, but have no intentions to injure or hurt any player," Shaibah said. "I have played in the Oman league, Libya and Qatar, but never received such a harsh punishment.

"I think the referees in the Pro League feel I played rough and created a bad impression on me, which is not true."

Khalid Awadh, the deputy chief executive at Al Wahda, provides a ringing endorsement of Shaibah's character, describing the unmarried defender as "respectful, very friendly and not a trouble maker".

He lives a quiet life in the club villas adjacent to the stadium and, unlike his Lamborghini-driving teammate Fernando Baiano, drives a modest Ford 4x4.

Shaibah is a popular figure in the league, and enjoys a particularly close relationship with his Wahda teammates Haider Ali, Ismail Matar and Mohammed Al Shehhi.

"It has not been difficult for him or for us to know each other," Haider, the Wahda captain, said. "We treat him like a brother more than a teammate because we share a lot of things in common.

"He is very comfortable with us. But as a player, he has been a really good addition, particularly with Hamdan and Basheer gone.

"He is also young and ambitious. He is committed with his work and always talks about improving his own game."