x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Weighty issues for Baiano

Al Wahda striker's bigger frame seems to be slowing him down.

Fernando Baiano, the Al Wahda striker, has struggled to replicate the scoring form he showed last year.
Fernando Baiano, the Al Wahda striker, has struggled to replicate the scoring form he showed last year.

Last season, as Al Wahda cruised to the Pro League title, Fernando Baiano could do no wrong. He had sealed the championship with a hat-trick against Sharjah and signed off with the opening goal in the final match against Al Nasr. The Brazilian finished the campaign with 18 goals in the league and 28 in all competitions. The tally was just shy of the 35 goals he struck for Al Jazira in the previous season, but the Wahda fans must have surely been taunting their city rivals for letting the striker leave.

Baiano arrived at Jazira on loan from Murcia, a Spanish second division club. A former Brazil youth international, he arrived with an impressive pedigree after successful stints with top club sides in Brazil, Germany and Spain. As expected, he delivered, although Jazira finished second to Al Ahli in the championship. Following his success, Baiano demanded a Dh46 million three-year contract to stay, but Jazira were unwilling to offer more than a year. The former Celta Vigo striker decided to cash in with Wahda, signing a two-year, Dh27.5m deal.

Many critics were surprised by Jazira's reluctance and they seemed to be gloating after Wahda's triumph last season, but perhaps Abel Braga, the Jazira coach, chose wisely last year. It is still early days in the league, but Baiano has been struggling to recreate his magic of last season. He has looked sluggish and is perhaps carrying a heavier frame. Baiano had scored just once in the first four matches of the season as Wahda fans went through 218 frustrating minutes without a goal to celebrate.

He found the net twice in the 5-0 win over Dubai in the last league game, but his contributions pale in comparison to last season. After five rounds of the league last year, Baiano had seven goals to his name. Laszlo Boloni, who lost his job after Wahda's poor start, admitted his displeasure with Baiano's performance after the loss to Al Wasl in the opening match of the campaign. "We expect a lot more from him," said the Romanian, before attributing Baiano's failures to a lack of proper service. "For Baiano to score, the other players also have to perform better and give him more passes. Once the level of the team improves, he will also be scoring goals."

At Jazira, Baiano had Rafael Sobis as his foil while Pinga, another Brazilian, took on that role at Wahda last season. He seemed to be in sync with his compatriots, but is missing that conduit this season. Opposition defences have also been a lot more alert to Baiano's threat. Tite, the new Wahda coach, is working hard to change that. "It [the lack of goals] is starting to be a big worry," Tite said after the goalless draw against Al Ain. "We had some opportunities to score, but we failed to grab them. This is something we have to work on."

Tite seems to be making progress and Baiano was back among the goals against Dubai. "It is hard to say about my own form," said Baiano. "It doesn't matter who scores, as long as the team keep winning. Of course, my primary job in the team is to score, but am happy if I can assist my teammates to get the goals. "We are doing pretty well and I am sure the team will click as the season progresses. It is not only the league we have to concentrate on but also the Club World Cup, which the management have placed high on their agenda. We definitely want to make the club and the country proud in this championship."

That suggests Baiano could be preparing for an assault on the world's top defences in December. If he is successful, the rivalry between the Wahda and Jazira fans will be set aside and the capital will surely unite in support. arizvi@thenational.ae