x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Small is beautiful for Al Wahda's Hickersberger

Abu Dhabi club 'do not have to' sign new players, says coach, whose strategy for the upcoming season is to focus solely on domestic competitions.

Al Wahda have a small squad for the 2011/12 season.
Al Wahda have a small squad for the 2011/12 season.

ABU DHABI // Al Wahda are turning to a youth movement as they prepare to focus on the three domestic competitions this season.

The club have released three of their experienced midfielders - Abdulraheem Jumaa, Fahed Masoud and Hassan Amin - and will rely on an input of youth from their academy.

Otherwise, the Wahda roster will remain the same. The Brazilian trio Fernando Baiano, Magrao and Hugo have been retained as the foreign players.

According to Josef Hickersberger, the coach, they may consider signing a fourth foreign player with an Asian passport, as per the Asian Football Confederation's new guidelines.

"I am happy to work with the same players because we don't have to make many changes to accommodate new players," Hickersberger said.

"The squad I have to work with is a good mixture of experience and youth.

"And we still have pretty good squad. Baiano and Magrao bring in a lot of experience and I expect Hugo to be a much better player in his second season.

"We played some of the youngsters towards the end of last season and I am pretty pleased with them."

The youngsters who impressed when they were given the opportunities given last season are Khalid Jalal, Ali Al Zaabi, Talal Abdulla and Mohammed Othma.

The players remaining at Al Wahda include Ismail Matar, Haider Ali, Basheer Saeed, Hamdan Al Kamali, Mohammed Al Shehhi, Saeed Al Kathiri, Mahmoud Khamis, Eisa Ahmed and the goalkeepers Mutaz Abdulla and Adel Al Hosani.

Matar, still the most influential player in the country, is recovering from knee surgery and will not return until the start of the new season in October.

Last season, the club's attention was split between the domestic competition and international tournaments. This year, they will be more focused, Hickersberger said.

"We are not playing in the Club World Cup or the Asian Champions League [ACL] as last season, so it is not necessary to have a bigger squad," the coach said.

Hickersberger led Al Wahda to the league title in 2009 and a place in the Club World Cup as the host nation when the Fifa event was staged in Abu Dhabi last December.

Jumaa, the UAE captain before a knee injury put him out of action for nearly a year and out of the national team, has joined his brothers, Abdulsalam and Ahmed, at Al Jazira. Masoud has moved to Al Wasl and Amin will play for Al Nasr.

Wahda had busy last season, playing in the Club World Cup and ACL as well as the three domestic competitions.

It proved too much for them and they ended up without any silverware.

They reached the President's Cup final, which they lost to Jazira 4-0, and finished fifth in the league.

"It would have been good had we qualified for the Champions League," Hickersberger said.

"It is not only a prestige [event] but also provides the players some international exposure. Our goals would be to win the domestic competitions and qualify for the 2013 ACL."

Wahda have planned a few friendlies starting with a couple of matches against Al Nahda of Oman, the second of which is played tonight at the Al Nahyan stadium.

"We started training a fortnight ago and will continue until the end of the Ramadan month," Hickersberger said.

"We may have a short camp outside the country in early September but it is still in the planning stages."

apassela@thenational.ae


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