x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Title-winning Wahda coach heads home

The Austrian coach Josef Hickersberger is out of a job despite steering Al Wahda to the Pro League title.

Josef Hickersberger, the former coach of Al Wahda, is on his way back to Austria.
Josef Hickersberger, the former coach of Al Wahda, is on his way back to Austria.

ABU DHABI // Josef Hickersberger was on a plane back to Austria last night having been told by Al Wahda that his contract as coach of the club would not be extended. That is despite a successful season which saw the Abu Dhabi side win the league for the first time in five seasons and seal a passage to the Club World Cup, which the capital city will host in December.

"It is business as usual, and the decision not to extend my contract doesn't surprise me," said Hickersberger, 62. "I was contracted for half-a-season and having had some decent results they extended my stay for one more year in which we won the league. "They have decided to sign in a new manager and that's not unusual. Probably the club management may have thought I could have done better, like winning both the Etisalat and President's Cup, which we could have, really. We were just not lucky enough to achieve that treble."

Wahda finished top of the Pro League table on 58 points, seven clear of Al Jazira, their nearest rivals. They also set a record by winning all their home matches. But Wahda crashed out in the semi-final of the President's Cup to Emirate, the eventual winners, conceding a penalty in injury time to lose 1-0 and they were beaten 3-0 by Al Jazira in a volatile Etisalat Cup semi-final second leg, losing 4-1 on aggregate, after being reduced to eight men.

"I have had a very enjoyable stay with Wahda and I return home with a lot of fond memories, particularly having won the league," said Hickersberger. "I was treated well by the players, fans and the management. And I wish them good luck for the next season." One of the decisions that did not go down well with the coach was when the club decided to effectively abort their Asian Champions League (ACL) campaign after two defeats. They fielded second-string teams thereafter and finished at the bottom of Group B with four points, with a win and draw against Sepahan of Iran.

"They had decided to focus on the league and I had to work on those instructions," the Austrian said. "I would have preferred to have got the full side to play in the ACL. We lost the first two games by one-goal margins and that shouldn't have been a worry had we continued to field our strongest line-up." Hickersberger believes he is still young enough to continue in management and was hopeful he would return with a team that has aspirations of winning the ACL.

"Who knows, I can be back in the UAE or Qatar, or maybe in China," he said without elaborating. "I feel I'm still young enough to coach a side. But right now, I am going back home and spend time with my family." Hickersberger is one of few men in the game to play for and manage a team Austria at the World Cup, and he enjoyed title success in Bahrain, with Al Ahli in 1996 and in Qatar with Al Ittihad in 2002. Wahda were the third team he had managed in the UAE after a season each with Al Shaab and Al Wasl. Wahda have also lost Pinga, the Brazilian midfielder, who is set to move to Al Ahli, the 2008-2009 league champions, next season. Pinga has played for Wahda for three seasons and had a key role in their title success, scoring 12 league goals. apassela@thenational.ae

Pro League Played 22 Won 19, drawn 1, lost 2 President's Cup Played 3 Won 2, lost 1 Etisalat Cup Played 8 Won 4, drawn 2, lost 2 Asian Champions League Played 6 Won 1, drawn 1,lost 4