x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Sharjah's coach Cajuda is here to stay - and learn

At least one big Portuguese club have tried to sign Manuel Cajuda, but he wants to remain in the UAE and win trophies.

Manuel Cajuda says big money will not lure him away from Sharjah, and that he wants to help the club win trophies and give their junior players the chance to progress.
Manuel Cajuda says big money will not lure him away from Sharjah, and that he wants to help the club win trophies and give their junior players the chance to progress.

By profession, Manuel Cajuda is a football coach; in spirit, he is an adventurer, keen to travel the world and experience different cultures wherever he goes.

It is this aspect of his personality which has seen the Portuguese stay on in the UAE with Sharjah, the Pro League club. There have been offers to return home. Last season, Sporting, the 18-time Portuguese champions, were keen to appoint him as their manager. Last month, his name was on the list of candidates to replace Carlos Queiroz as the head coach of the Portugal national team.

But Cajuda, who arrived at Sharjah in 2009, is not ready to pack his bags just yet and is enjoying the experience that UAE football has to offer.

"I had several opportunities to return to Portugal, some of them are known, have been reported," Cajuda, 59, said. "I prefer to stay in the UAE because I am a coach who places great value on respect.

"In Portugal, they all know me and know I wasted several opportunities to coach big clubs because there's one thing [respect] that I will not compromise on. Respect for others begins in the respect I have for myself.

"Here, I have my independence and I do not care about the financial aspect. I take my decisions, the club accepts them and believes in them. I feel that my experience as a coach and my knowledge as a football man are appreciated here. So why should I move to a country that is mine, but does not offer me the same guarantees - that I will be respected as a coach by all?

"Of course, I felt honoured to see my name linked to an institution of enormous magnitude like the Portuguese Football Federation. I have always said I have a dream of being a national coach, but I do not think that's happening right now.

"I have a contract with Sharjah for two more seasons and I am determined to finish it. I'm in a country and a club where people value greatly the trust in others and I feel it every day - they trust me. So while some offers may be tempting, I can assure you they aren't worth more than my word to the club and the contract that I have signed with Sharjah."

A man of principles, Cajuda also believes he has a lot to learn from the UAE and the Arab people.

Having coached Zamalek, the Egyptian giants, in 2006, he is familiar with the customs and traditions of this part of the world and has been keen to adopt them. In Egypt, he fasted during the holy month of Ramadan.

"It's been a fantastic experience for me over here, both sporting and cultural," Cajuda said. "I'm not just a coach, I'm also an adventurer and I am happy to meet other cultural environments. I can say that the experience in the UAE has been hugely fulfilling for me, as a man and a coach. As a man, I try to learn; as a coach, I try to teach.

"People are affectionate, they respect me a lot and I feel a great affection for the club, for their officials, the fans and the people of the UAE. In Europe, there are some prejudices about the Arab world. I know this because I've trained Zamalek. The truth is I also loved Egypt and I adapted very easily.

"So things are going well here. Sharjah are in a good position in the league [third after five games]and I feel my work at this club and in this country has just begun. I have the hope and belief that I can stay here over the next few years of my career."

Cajuda arrived at Sharjah last year after one of the worst seasons in the history of the club, which saw them criticised by the press and supporters for bringing the country into disrepute.

They had pulled out of the 2009 Asian Champions League, with two group matches still to play, to focus on the relegation battle in the Pro League. They stayed up, but were banned from Asian competition for a season.

Cajuda did not get a bag full of money to change the club's fortunes, but he was given freedom by the new management set-up. The results of that were noticeable from the start of last season. Sharjah finished sixth in the league, but it was their entertaining football that pleased the neutrals.

The progress has continued through this season with Sharjah sitting in third place in the Pro League after three wins and a draw from their five matches.

While Cajuda is pleased with the turnaround, his goals for the club are much higher. He wants to achieve the kind of success that Sir Alex Ferguson has managed with Manchester United in the English Premier League.

"I decided to stay because I have to finish a project at Sharjah and I am comfortable," said Cajuda, whose son Joao is an actor.

"One day, the president of Sharjah told me that I would stay at the club for 15 years. If that happens, it would be great because it would mean I have won titles.

"In the future, this is what I want - win, win, win. If I have to be Alex Ferguson of Sharjah, then I will be."

For this season, Cajuda is aiming for a top-four finish and to take Sharjah, who won the last of their league titles in 1996, back into the Champions League. "Our goals for this season are very clear and I think all the players of club have already understood the message," Cajuda said.

"We must finish in the top-four and qualify once again for Asia. We want to reach a position from where we can start hunting for titles next season. As I said, I'm here to win and to help Sharjah win."

Cajuda, who gave players like Pepe, now of Real Madrid, and Tiago, who has played for Chelsea and Juventus, their first steps in football, is also keen to secure the future of Sharjah. With that in mind, he has been paying special attention to the club's B team and the youth squads.

"At all the clubs, I have helped promote new talent," he said. "In the Portugal squad, players like Pepe, Tiago, Hugo Almeida (Werder Bremen) and Danny (Zenit St Petersburg) started with me because I gave them the opportunity to play, when they were young, very young.

"I think in the UAE, there are many talented players. The proof of this is the results achieved by the Olympic team. This means that there is a good future ahead. I followed a few of the Olympic team's games. I have several young players in Sharjah and I like to accompany them for their games.

"Honestly, the way forward is to focus on the training of these young players. So at Sharjah, I'm always very mindful of the B team. I accompany them for their games because I know that's where the future of the club is."

arizvi@thenational.ae