x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Managerial changes are to blame for Al Wahda slump

Mohammed al Shehhi cites lack of continuity as the Abu Dhabi club have surrendered the league title, suffered cup final defeat and are winless in the ACL.

Al Wahda’s Mahmoud al Hammadi, right, tussles with Al Ittihad’s Paulo Jorge during the teams’ corresponding fixture on April 5, which Wahda lost 3-0. The two face each other again tonight.
Al Wahda’s Mahmoud al Hammadi, right, tussles with Al Ittihad’s Paulo Jorge during the teams’ corresponding fixture on April 5, which Wahda lost 3-0. The two face each other again tonight.

ABU DHABI // It has been a season to forget for Mohammed al Shehhi.

After winning the Pro League with Al Wahda last season, al Shehhi has seen three changes of coach at the Abu Dhabi club. They are eighth in the table and are having to watch Al Jazira, their city rivals, run away with the league.

They also lost 4-0 to Jazira in the President's Cup final and Al Shabab knocked them out of the Etisalat Cup in the semi-finals.

Wahda beat amateur side Hekari United from Papua New Guinea in the first round of the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi in December, but were then beaten 4-1 by Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma from South Korea and eventually finished sixth of seven teams.

And Wahda take on Saudi Arabian giants Al Ittihad away tonight in the Asian Champions League, still looking for a win in the competition after two draws and a defeat.

"It has not been a good season for us," said al Shehhi, who blamed the managerial changes at the beginning of the season as one of the main reasons behind the club's failure this season.

When Josef Hickersberger quit following the title triumph, Lazlo Boloni, the Romanian, and Tite from Brazil both came and left after a handful of games. That prompted Hickersberger to return for a second spell in Abu Dhabi.

"We trained under one coach for two months and he left after three games. Then we had another for two matches before the present coach returned," al Shehhi said. "I am not trying to find excuses but it didn't go [down] well with the players."

Meanwhile his fortunes with the national team have been mixed. Al Shehhi was a member of the UAE's Under 23 squad that won a maiden silver medal at the Asian Games in China last November, but he did not have the same success with the senior side in the Asian Cup in Qatar in January, where the team finished bottom of their group and failed to score a goal.

The UAE forwards, including al Shehhi, took much of the blame for the anaemic performance in front of goal during the Asian Cup.

"The results don't tell the true story," al Shehhi said. "Those who watched the games will know how cruel the results were against us.

"It is true we couldn't score from the chances we created, but we didn't deserve to lose the way we did in that competition.

"In football, sometimes you need luck, and we didn't have that on our side."

It is all a far cry from the first few seasons of al Shehhi's career, which started with a bang.

The forward was named Emirati Rookie of the Year in 2006/07 and followed that up with Player of the Year the next season.

His rise to prominence was swift. Al Shehhi was selected for the national team for the Asian Cup that was jointly hosted by Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in July 2007, and won his first cap in a friendly against Malaysia before the tournament, scoring on his debut in the 3-0 win.

His first competitive international came in the Asian Cup opener against co-hosts Vietnam, which the UAE lost 2-0 as they failed to advance beyond the group stage despite rounding off their campaign with a 2-1 victory over Qatar.

"To have won successive awards at the end of the domestic season and then being selected to the national team indeed was a great start for me," said the 23-year-old, who is driven by a desire to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

"To play in the World Cup, I believe, is the dream of every player around the globe.

"It is never easy to qualify for it, but we are very hopeful."

Al Shehhi has played all his football for Wahda after joining the club when he was only eight. He also represented the national team at Under 17 level in 2003.

"My school coach, who was also coaching at the club, got me enrolled. I was eight and a goalkeeper. But I didn't like that role and started playing as a forward after a year before progressing from the age group teams."

He has been pushed back to play a midfielder's role for both club and national teams. Fernando Baiano and Ismail Matar play up front for his club, and Ahmed Khalil and Matar take up the striker duties for the national team.

Al Shehhi is happy to make sacrifices for the team.

"Given the option, I would like to play as the second striker at both club and national team," he said.

"However, I try to play as best as I can in any given position."

apassela@thenational.ae

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