Let go by the Arabian Gulf League leaders in March, and having then agreed by month’s end to join the league champions, Rodolfo Arruabarrena has spent the time since in limbo.
The Argentine had expected to be preparing to begin work this summer at Sharjah, his stock still high despite his shock dismissal by Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, but a change in administration not long after he signed has left him betwixt and between.
Sharjah’s new board opted to retain Abdulaziz Al Anbari, the manager who guided the club last season to a first UAE championship in 23 seasons, and thus Arruabarrena’s situation remains unresolved.
There have been talks regarding closure and compensation on a deal that was due to begin on July 1, but up to now, no settlement. Until there is, Arruabarrena continues to be separated from family, who reside in Spain.
Simply, he wants his professional circumstances reconciled so he can resume his personal life. He insists there’s no ill feeling towards Sharjah – just a desire to get back to Spain before moving forward with his career.
"It's a weird situation for the new administration and also for me," Arruabarrena tells The National from his Dubai apartment. "Because they arrived to find a contract they didn't think they had.
“And for me it was also bad because, at the time, I chose Sharjah over two other offers. One, I don’t have any more, and the other one is not so good now in terms of the sporting aspect. So I've lost out on them.
“The people that brought me the Sharjah offer have sat down twice in the last two months with part of the club’s administration. It’s normal: one party defends the club; the other defends the staff and me. They’re speaking to meet in the middle, to get the best agreement for the club and for me.
“But, until now, only two meetings and discussing. If I don’t arrange something or not, my idea was on July 1 to be in Spain with my family. I just want to be there with them.”
Arruabarrena, 44, says his representatives last spoke to Sharjah at the beginning of this week. Around the end of last month, he emailed the club to let know that, a month out from his original start date, he was nevertheless putting plans in place for preparing the team for this summer even though he realises he won't be working there.
“On Sunday, there was a meeting; they made an offer, we listened to the offer, we said what we think, and now we are waiting,” Arruabarrena says. “It’s a difficult situation, because I can’t go to see my family, to help my wife, and I’m here the last three months without seeing them. At the moment the Covid-19 [crisis] was at its peak, three of my children were in Spain – two studying Madrid, one in Villarreal – and my small son was on a school trip in France. He could not fly to Spain.
“So my wife was alone to manage all these situations – it wasn’t easy for her. But I didn’t have options to go to Spain; I had to stay here to decide the future.
"As I said, it’s a tough situation for both parties, and because of that they’re trying to speak to get the best agreement for all. Each one needs to protect their side, which is normal. For me, living here is comfortable; it’s a city I love, a country I love. But I miss my family. That’s natural.”
Arruabarrena’s reputation within the UAE sustains. Having led Al Wasl to a runner-up finish in his debut season in the Arabian Gulf League and then third the next year – a tenure that included two cup-final defeats – he joined Shabab Al Ahli in October 2018 and guided the Dubai side to a runner-up finish. They also lifted the President’s Cup and the Arabian Gulf Cup.
At the time Arruabarrena was dismissed this season, Shabab Al Ahli were top of the table, three points clear of second. Two months before, they lost the Arabian Gulf Cup final.
While his situation with Sharjah is unclear, Arruabarrena continues to attract interest from clubs inside and outside the UAE, but he hasn't considered any offers. First, he needs to straighten out everything with Sharjah.
“This is my personal preference,” he says. “I decided not to make a negotiation with another club because I wanted first of all to finish this with Sharjah.
“And in case this doesn’t happen, I have to wait until July 1 when the contract starts to feel free to start listening or sitting down with another club. Because if not, it’s going to speak badly of me. It would be rude from my side to Sharjah. It’s my way of life to do like that.
“But it’s true: today I’m thinking only of finishing this negotiation with Sharjah in a good way and go have a vacation with my family."
Despite everything, Arruabarrena has used lockdown to refine his coaching, speaking via Zoom to peers in Europe, running his eye over the latest software that he and his staff can utilise whenever they do return to work.
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Given the dearth of live football, he’s been enjoying old matches on TV. In particular, those involving former players.
“It’s been fun watching matches from 2010, 2015,” Arruabarrena says. “I saw Walid Abbas playing for Al Shabab, [Abdulaziz] Haikal with the national team, Ismail [Al Hammadi] in the Olympic team.
“I’ve lived alone for most of the last four years, so it’s nothing new. And I respect all the rules the government implemented during this time; I don’t go out a lot anyway.
"One problem I’ve had is cooking, because usually I eat out close to my apartment. But now the restaurants have reopened, I’m there all the time. They’ve got used to seeing me again.”
For now, Arruabarrena is intent on seeing family, even if he laughs they might not feel the same because of his demand for discipline at home. Jokes aside, the situation with Sharjah and the coronavirus crisis has reinforced life’s priorities.
“There were two weeks when my wife and my youngest child were in Valencia, my two daughters in Madrid and my son in France,” he says. “Those two weeks were very difficult because Madrid was one of the cities with the most Covid cases, so it was tough for my wife alone trying to get my daughters back home.
“Thankfully they didn’t have any symptoms, any trouble, and now they’re all together at my house in Valencia. Maybe now Spain is coming out of the crisis, I feel they don’t want me there, since they know they’ll be in trouble because I’m very strict with my family. What time they wake up, when to study - I’m over them all the time.
“But the best thing today is to get an agreement with Sharjah and not let it drag on and waste everybody’s time, for the club and me to agree before something else can happen and then I can go in July to see my family.
“Although these things are happening, Sharjah’s a club that I like, that’s why I agreed to sign: because of the players, the fans, the history. So the best thing now is to sort something. I don’t know what will happen, but this is the best outcome.”