Al Wahda striker Sebastian Tagliabue has spoken about the “dream come true” of being granted UAE citizenship, saying it would be an honour to represent the national team if he was selected for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
This week it was made public that Tagliabue, born in Argentina, became a naturalised UAE citizen, a move long mooted and eventually made possible following a change in regulations triggered by a Presidential decree issued by Sheikh Khalifa in November 2017. Caio Canedo, the Brazil-born forward currently at Al Ain, also obtained citizenship.
Tagliabue, 34, has lived in the Emirates with his wife and two children since joining Abu Dhabi-based Al Wahda in 2013. He went on to become the UAE top flight's leading foreign goalscorer, with 146 goals, and ranks 19 behind from Fahad Khamis’s record.
Speaking on Wednesday to The National, Tagliabue said: "Believe me; when I had the passport in my hands, it was an unbelievable feeling. Amazing, even for my family. My family are so, so happy.
“You cannot imagine how my kids felt when I showed them the passport. They were more than happy, even more than me.
“And I spoke with my father. He cannot believe it. I told him: ‘Hey, your last name will be in one national team.’ And he said: ‘My son, it’s one of the best news I have in my life.’
“What I reached in this beautiful country is not normal for a foreign player. I never expected these things. Of course, there were dreams that I had but when it comes true it’s difficult to believe.”
The change in status is expected to make Tagliabue eligible for the UAE national team, although the Football Association has yet to make an official announcement regarding him or Caio.
Having completed more than five years in the Emirates, Tagliabue qualifies for the UAE national team.
At present, he has not spoken with Ivan Jovanovic, the new national team manager, but confirmed that he is ready to contribute to the country’s bid to make the 2022 World Cup – if called upon.
The UAE sit fourth in the five-team Group G in the second round of qualification, five points off leaders Vietnam, although they have played one game fewer than each of their pool rivals.
The Emirates resume the campaign in March with a double-header at home to Malaysia and away to Indonesia. Only the top team is guaranteed to advance to the third and final round.
“OK, I’ve got the passport, but I have to wait to see if the national team coach chooses me,” Tagliabue said. “And after that, I have to be in good shape and show to the national team why they gave me the passport.
“In the beginning, I’m very happy and proud – it’s an amazing chance that I will have. On the other hand, it’s pressure, it’s a serious thing; it’s no joke. But I’m more than ready to take this chance.
“It’s not that they give me the passport and I say: ‘OK, I will relax.' No, no. Now I have more pressure than before. I have to play more seriously and work harder than before. Because now I will represent one country, this beautiful country. So I have to put more and more into it. I cannot relax.”
Tagliabue said he would like to play alongside UAE stars Ali Mabkhout and Omar Abdulrahman in particular, while citing a number of other players, including Bandar Al Ahbabi and Majed Hassan.
He also thanked his club teammates and Al Wahda's management for their continued support, especially club president Sheikh Diab bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Asked what he would bring to the national team, Tagliabue said: “I think goals. I will try to bring what I bring here in Al Wahda. It’s for that reason that they gave me the passport.
“I will try to play very hard, try to give everything and, of course, I will try to score. But as I always say, the first thing is for the team to win. I will try to help that. There are good players and a good team, but we would have to work harder.
“To go to the World Cup we have to be an amazing team. And I hope to help us become an amazing team.”
Tagliabue said a call-up to the national team would represent an emotional moment for both him and his family, adding: “Yes, of course. It’s like when you meet your wife for the first time in your life.
“It will be amazing when I go to training and put on the jersey. It will be emotional and, after I go to the game and I put on the real jersey to play. And also it’s not a friendly game, it’s an official game. So for sure it will be something special in my life.”