x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Olivera knows his 'responsibility' to repay Wasl coach Maradona

Uruguayan striker is keenly aware of his place of honour in the 2011/12 Al Wasl side: he was Diego Maradona's first expatriate recruit.

Juan Manuel Olivera and Diego Maradona, centre, share a joke during a Wasl training session. The Uruguayan striker is Maradona's handpicked striker to drive the Dubai club to the UAE title.
Juan Manuel Olivera and Diego Maradona, centre, share a joke during a Wasl training session. The Uruguayan striker is Maradona's handpicked striker to drive the Dubai club to the UAE title.

DUBAI // Juan Manuel Olivera is keenly aware of his place of honour in the 2011/12 Al Wasl side: he was Diego Maradona's first expatriate recruit.

Of all the foreign players in all the world, Maradona moved first for the tall and lean Uruguayan striker. He immediately repaid the faith of his manager by launching the coach's reign at Wasl by heading in the opening goal of their 3-1 win over Kalba on Sunday night.

"Yes, I know; he chose me. It is a big responsibility," said Olivera, 30. "Now I try to train strong to say 'thank you' on the field for this responsibility."

He conceded that playing for a man considered one of the two greatest players in football history can be a distraction.

"At first, it is difficult," he said. "You look at the man and you remember all the things he did in football. But after a few days you feel more comfortable, and it's more normal to train with this guy who was such a big player. Now, he's one more coach."

Maradona has a reputation for being prickly. He duelled with reporters in his native Argentina, and his ongoing feud with the president of his country's football federation is deeply bitter.

Olivera said the Maradona he knows at Wasl is calm and fair.

"I see a friendly coach," he said. "He talks to everyone the same, whether you're a player or a coach.

"Of course, sometimes he's a strong coach because he wants the best for the team, and for this he needs to be strong.

"But other times you can go up to him and talk and he will listen. He speaks a lot with the players, and this is very good. We all want to do our best on the field and play the way that makes him happy."

Olivera carries the additional burden of being the lone man at the apex of what apparently will be Wasl's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation.

Maradona must hope Olivera will have the sort of strike rate he achieved in 2009/10, when he scored 37 goals in 42 matches for Universidad de Chile.

"I never like to talk about goals," Olivera said. "I play for the team, for the players, for the coach. It's not important that I score; it's important that the club finishes the season in a high place."

Olivera began his career in his native Uruguay, but since 2005 he has played with Cruz Azul in Mexico, Suwon Bluewings in South Korea, Shaanxi Baorong in China, Libertad in Paraguay, Universidad in Chile and Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia.

He played only nine games with the Saudi club, last year, scoring four goals, and indicated that he was not comfortable playing for the Riyadh side.

"In Saudi, I couldn't live the way I like for my family," he said. "It was difficult. I know that here in Dubai it is different. I can feel it. This is a totally different place."

He said family concerns rank high for him; he is married to Paola and they have a three-year-old son, Santino. "First, the family must feel good in the country," he said. "We feel good here."

He concedes he knows little about the other UAE clubs but likes the progress Wasl are making.

"We know some of the other clubs have big players, but we trust in our team and our players," he said. "If everyone plays well, and does what they can in the field, I hope that we can finish as the best this season."

poberjuerge@thenational.ae


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