x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Tagliabue fulfilling all ambitions

When Sebastian Tagliabue was playing fourth-division football in Argentina, his dream of being a brand ambassador for a boot company seemed unlikely. Now, the Al Wahda striker is the UAE brand ambassador for Adidas.

Sebastian Tagliabue is never far from his two sons Facundo, 5, left, and Gustavo, 2, neither of whom were born in his naive Argentina. Christopher Pike / The National
Sebastian Tagliabue is never far from his two sons Facundo, 5, left, and Gustavo, 2, neither of whom were born in his naive Argentina. Christopher Pike / The National

Rarely can anyone have claimed to be “living the dream” when they were hard at work in a converted warehouse in Al Quoz industrial area 3.

Of all of the UAE’s neighbourhoods, these are far from the most salubrious. Gareth Bale would not have to put up with it, making his entourage sit around while his boot suppliers get their pound of flesh.

Yet Sebastian Tagliabue cannot keep the smile off his face. Living the dream? This is more or less exactly how the journeyman Argentine striker envisaged it.

“From when I was small, I was always hoping for something like this – to get a contract with Adidas,” says Tagliabue, who has been recruited to lead the line for Al Wahda in the Arabian Gulf League this season.

“It was my dream. When they contacted me, I was so happy. All my life, if you ever saw a picture of me from when I started football, I always used Adidas. Always.”

Maybe he has erred slightly from the childhood ideal. Initially, the mind’s eye might have had him wearing the chosen boots while playing for River Plate, his boyhood team, rather than a club in the Middle East.

But he has never been shy of wandering off the beaten path. His arrival in Abu Dhabi two months ago was the latest port in a grand tour, which started in the fourth tier of Argentine professional football.

Now he is the UAE-based ambassador for the same boots as Bale wears. Funny how life works out.

“Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Saudi Arabia and now UAE,” the 28-year-old striker says as he reels off his international experience. “Everybody wants to improve themselves in whatever job they do.

“I don’t like to stay for too long in one place. I am always looking for change, and to go looking for adventure.

“I have two kids and a wife and I want the best for them. Today, the best for me is UAE.”

Much like Bale did when he was introduced as the world’s costliest footballer in Madrid last week, Tagliabue brought his family with him for his sponsors’ photo shoot.

“I can show them the sights of Dubai” the man from Buenos Aires probably thought when leaving the capital in the morning. So far, his wife, Mariana, and their two sons have visited only the anteroom of a studio in a dusty industrial estate.

Yet there is not a diva in sight. Facundo, 5, and Gustavo, 2, snuggle up close to their mother on the sofa in the reception, contenting themselves by playing on a shared iPad.

Their mother seems happy enough. As for their footballer father, the only time his disarming smile leaves his face is when the photographer demands a pout.

How long have they been married? Tagliabue stalls – the pause a little too long for comfort. “Er ..?”

A tough icebreaker, clearly, and perhaps best to get out of the way while out of earshot from his wife? “No, you can go and ask her too – she wouldn’t know the answer,” he says and laughs.

Maybe he should ink the date of their anniversary somewhere within his eye line, so he does not forget. He has plenty of body art commemorating his family, anyway.

Patricia, his mother’s name, is inscribed on the left side of his chest, Mariana on the right, while his sons are represented on the inside of either forearm.

He is never without them, either physically or figuratively. “Neither of my sons were born in Argentina,” he says, with the pride of a world traveller.

Facundo was born in Chile, Gustavo in Saudi Arabia, where Tagliabue first caught the eye of Karel Jarolim, his new coach at Al Wahda, during prolific stints for Al Ittifaq and Riyadh’s Al Shabab.

“My wife was content to have the delivery in another country, to stay abroad with me,” he says. “We have always preferred to stay together. If a club ever says to me, right, first you must come alone and then your family after, I say ‘no’.

“Always my family have to be together. They are even here today.”

You get the impression that Al Wahda need not worry about the curse of the homesick South American with this new signing.

He left his homeland five years ago, the past two have been spent in the Middle East, and he is not exactly in a rush to get home.

The family have no trips back there planned. He hopes to explore the region, or perhaps Paris, or Europe, rather than head back to Buenos Aires.

Maybe he will be a champion of UAE football by then? Stranger things have already happened, what with the boot deal coming up.

He says Wahda’s aim is to qualify for the Asian Champions League. He acknowledges he does not know if they can mount a title bid, only because of a lack of knowledge of the Arabian Gulf League rather than because he doubts the merits of his side.

As for his latest home, he is content. “In terms of the weather and life, it is very different here,” he says.

“In Saudi Arabia, there is a special culture and special life, which I have a lot of respect for.

“They opened their doors for me and my family, but it is difficult for people from South America to adapt. I think, here in UAE, we will be better.”

pradley@thenational.ae