x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Matias Delgado is determined to start filling Al Jazira's trophy cabinet

The Argentine midfielder hopes the season will have silver lining after a tough start to life in Abu Dhabi.

Matias Delgado, left, the Al Jazira midfielder, hopes to make history at the club.
Matias Delgado, left, the Al Jazira midfielder, hopes to make history at the club.

Matias Delgado was warned that Al Jazira have never won the two biggest prizes in UAE football, but he still found it mind-boggling, when he joined the team in August from the Turkish side Besiktas, to square the atmosphere around the club with their barren trophy cabinet.

"The first time they brought me to the club, OK, they told me the club has never won the cup or the league," the Argentine said. "Then I get here and I see the stadium and the club and all the players and I can't believe that they have never won. It seems amazing to me, because I can see it is a big club."

Delgado can help Jazira remedy at least half of that history of frustration today when Jazira play Al Wahda in the President's Cup final.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Jazira's greatest season, to date, has come with Delgado in the squad. The midfielder was a key member of the Basle teams that won the Swiss Super League in 2004 and 2005, and the Besiktas side that won the Turkish Super League in 2009. He also has lifted two Turkish Cups and a Turkish Super Cup and concedes he has been asked by his new teammates about winning trophies.

"They ask me about this and I say, 'The secret is go step by step.' I tell them also, 'This club, this venture, is different because you will be in the history of the club because it's the first time.'

"So when the people ask who is the first champion of Jazira, our name will be there. This is important because many local players are here for many years, working hard for many years, and this time for them is a big opportunity."

Delgado was at a low ebb when he joined Jazira on a free transfer after two games in the current Turkish season. Before those two games, he had not played in a match in 16 months, he said. He needed four months to recover from surgery on an abductor muscle, and then was held out another 12 months by Besiktas. He asked repeatedly to be allowed to leave before Bernd Schuster, the coach at the time, relented.

"It was depressing," said Delgado, who speaks four languages. "I was injured. I needed a change in this time. When they told me to change the team I said 'yes'. I feel there was a problem for me with Besiktas. I loved the people who were working in Besiktas too much, and I love the fans. I don't want to be the player who is difficult, so my decision was not difficult; it was easy for everybody."

Delgado did not immediately impose his will on UAE football. He had been sidelined too long, and adjusting to the UAE summer heat was difficult. But he was eager to prove himself.

"The players and the group and the coach [Abel Braga] helped me very much," he said. "You know, here you are foreign, so you have to show something, and the first six months I didn't show anything for my team. But the group believe in me all the time, and now I feel strong; I feel confident."

Delgado has become a vital cog in the Jazira machine, a box-to-box midfielder with pace and a high work rate; he ran nearly 12km in a recent match. But he also is a precise distributor with a dangerous shot. Two of his three Pro League goals have come in Jazira's last three matches, including an exquisite free kick in the 53rd minute to trigger a 5-1 rout of Al Ahli on March 31.

It now is easier to imagine him scoring 58 goals (including a tournament-high seven in a march to the 2005/06 Uefa Cup semi-final), in 113 matches with Basle. He also looks like the player who was the 2006 Swiss Footballer of the Year and the man who wore the No 10 with Besiktas and scored 26 goals in 91 matches.

Delgado, 28, grew up in Buenos Aires, the son of Eduardo Delgado, a former footballer and Matias's agent. After three season and 55 games with Chacarita Juniors, he knew he wanted to play in Europe. But his "decision" to join Basle is a story he clearly likes to recount.

"It was in 2003, but I did not decide nothing," he said. "Just one day my father comes on Monday and says 'Wednesday we are leaving for Switzerland'. 'To where?' I asked. 'I don't know,' he told me. "I'm not sure. I will explain everything after we get there.'"

His family - wife Laura, son Nicholas, four, and daughter Dolores, two - are with him in Abu Dhabi, and under his skin in the form of tattoos in large script on each forearm.

Asked what he will do if he has more children, he said: "I have other places."

He said Jazira have treated him well; according to Turkish media, he is earning around Dh11.9 million on a two-season contract.

What he misses here are stadiums packed to capacity and the raw emotion of avid fans.

"We played in front of 30,000 every time in Basle," he said. "And the people at Besiktas, it is hard to describe in words. You have to feel it. They are crazy. I never see nothing like that. So here, you must find your motivation elsewhere."

A sizeable crowd could be in the stand for the President's Cup final, during which Jazira will attack, as always, Delgado predicted. "We attack with five, six all the time."

But he does not expect Wahda to be overawed.

"I know well that this year is not good for them in the league, but they are a big team," Delgado said. "And a derby is derby. A final is a final. I saw that in the last game against us, they fight, they play like a big team.

"We will play like a big team, too. I think it will be a great final for both teams."

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

The Match-up

Key Battle

Hamdan al Kamali v Bare

Wahda’s centre-back has the heavy responsibility of tracking Bare, Jazira’s muscular striker, below, who has scored nine times in his club’s last eight league matches. Al Kamali, a mainstay of the national team, was burned by Bare two weeks ago; avoiding the same fate tonight is vital for Wahda.

Tactics

Jazira will attack from the opening minute but their commitment to going forward leaves them open to counter-attacks. Fernando Baiano and Ismail Matar should have chances; the game could hinge on how many saves Jazira’s fine goalkeeper, Ali Kasheif, can make.

Previous meetings

Since Jazira’s emergence in 2002/03, the teams have met 15 times in league and cup competitions and each has won six games, with three draws. Both league games so far this season were draws (0-0, 2-2). Wahda won their most recent cup match, a quarter-final in 2009, in a penalty shoot-out.

Line-ups

Wahda (4-4-2) Al Hosani; Ali, Basheer, al Kamali, Ahmed; Hugo, Khalid, Magrao, al Shehhi; Baiano, Matar
Jazira (4-4-2) Kasheif; Moosa, Rabea, Abdullah, Sabeal; Delgado, Matar, Khater, Diaky; Oliveira, Bare

Facts

• Jazira are aiming for a rare double of the top domestic competitions. Since 1990, only Al Wasl (2007) have won both the cup and league.
• Wahda were the last team to defeat Jazira in the league, in February 2010.
• The clubs have never before met in a cup final.