Sebastian Tagliabue staying sharp at home as sights remain set on UAE debut and goalscoring record

Argentine-born striker discusses how he is keeping fit at home and his immediate ambitions once the football season resumes

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: John McAuley: Footballer Sebastián Tagliabué has gained Emirati citizenship and will hopefully be playing football for the national team. Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020. Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Powered by automated translation

Like just about everyone else, Sebastian Tagliabue is coming to terms with an unprecedented time.

The Al Wahda striker currently trains without teammates, at his home in Abu Dhabi, carrying out a tailored programme provided by the club’s fitness coach.

His wife, Mariana, pushes him on, just as she has done throughout his football career, a partner and a persistent presence. It helps that she just so happens to be a fitness instructor, too.

With the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) postponed indefinitely because of the coronavirus, Tagliabue is trying to keep sharp and in shape. He trains in the morning and afternoon, sessions split this past week by the onset of his sons' online learning, as schools across the UAE remain shut.

When they could, Facundo and Gustavo would join Tagliabue on his early run, keeping up with dad on their bicycles. Not that he always thanked them for it.

“They would always be shouting ‘Yalla daddy, yalla! Push, push, push!” Tagliabue laughs, speaking by phone from his house. “Sometimes I’d shout back at them to stop, that I’m so tired. I have three people here who won’t let me rest.”

Tagliabue, though, realises that’s sometimes needed. He understands, as well, that not everyone is as fortunate as him, as the world continues to fight a pandemic that not only disrupts lives, but claims them.

He is in constant dialogue with his family back in Argentina; his father, who has some underlying health issues, is self-isolating at the moment, requesting that Tagliabue’s brothers stay away until it is safe to see him.

“The situation there is getting worse,” Tagliabue says. “People are only starting to take it seriously. While it is a difficult time for a footballer, we have to understand that this is a world problem – it’s not only the UAE, Argentina or Spain. We all have to take care.”

It's difficult to imagine right now, but should the outbreak not have struck, Tagliabue would most likely have been making his debut this week for the UAE national team.

In January, he was granted citizenship and therefore able to represent what has been his adopted home since 2013. On Thursday, the UAE were slated to resume their qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup with a home tie against Malaysia in Dubai, but like domestic football, the qualifiers have been postponed.

A new date, expected sometime between September and November, is yet to be set.

So Tagliabue's wait to realise this “unbelievable honour” goes on.

“Now I don’t think more about that, but in the beginning when everything was cancelled internationally I was a little sad," he says. “I thought ‘No, I will not play for the national team’.

“Now we’ve known the decision for a long time, it’s OK. But, yes, I was sad because one of my main points this year was to play in the national team. Now it's one of the highest objectives for me to continue training, to continue being at a good level.”

It adds to the motivation, another incentive to stay focused, fit and on form. There are others. For Al Wahda this season, Tagliabue has scored 15 times in the league, taking him to 152 goals in all and to within 13 of the all-time UAE top-flight record.

With seven rounds remaining, he lies second in the race for the Golden Boot he clinched last season. Al Ain’s Kodjo Laba, four goals better off, is in range.

“Just like the national team is one of my motivations, it’s also to play these seven games with Al Wahda and try to reach as far as possible, fighting first for the team and then for myself," Tagliabue says. “I’m four goals behind Laba, but there’s still seven games.

“About the all-time record, of course it would be amazing if I get it. But I don’t put this in my mind, because if I do I will not score even one goal against my son. I try to go game-by-game, but this year or hopefully next year if I stay in the UAE I will reach this target. Today, I think it’s only 13 goals, so I hope - really hope - to reach.”

For now, however, it’s back to the double training sessions, to assisting with the kids’ schoolwork, to watching an action movie or series on Netflix once the day’s almost done. Or even clips of himself competing for Wahda, searching for ways to get better.

Despite last month turning 35, Tagliabue is determined to improve still.

“It’s a difficult situation now with the coronavirus, but we will eventually come back and I know that I can be better and better,” he says. “I always look to that, until the last day in my career.

"And, remember, those three people behind me will kill me if I stop, even for one day.”