ABU DHABi // Josef Hickersberger is 61, but experience is no remedy for homesickness. He celebrated the arrival of his fifth grandchild last month and on returning to Abu Dhabi, admitted to badly missing his family. But now the Austrian manager has banished those blues and is focused on leading Al Wahda to some silverware this season.
"We celebrated the new addition in the family on June 10 and it was with a heavy heart I left this time. It takes a few days and then it's back to work as usual," said Hickersberger. Hickersberger believes he has a stronger squad than last season after the club signed the Brazilian striker Fernando Baiano, the top scorer in the UAE game's first professional season, on a new three-year contract, and goalkeeper Mutaz Abdulla, who arrives from Al Ain on a two-year deal.
"We have a much stronger squad with the addition of Baiano and Mutaz," admitted the Austrian, who had the rare honour of playing in the 1978 World Cup finals as a player and leading his country in the 1990 event as coach. "We finished far behind the top three teams in the league, in fourth. But this season, I hope, we not only want to play better but win something." Wahda have six UAE internationals, including Ismail Matar, and it was quite disappointing for a team of such quality to be trophyless for the last three years.
Hickersberger added: "It was the first time that I took over a side in the middle of a season. It was difficult because I didn't know the players. The team was not in the right shape and frame of mind. They were struggling at the time. And to be honest, I almost lost the job. "The club chairman, Sheikh Saeed, has been patient with me and he has given me more time to show better results. Otherwise I would have got the sack. I am very realistic about it. I know how it works here."
Hickersberger was given a new one-year deal after he led Wahda to the Etisalat Cup final and earned a play-off berth in next year's Asian Champions League because of the club's fourth-placed league finish. Baiano and Mutaz will fill voids that have been felt for a long time, both in attack and the defence. Hickersberger continued: "We didn't have a decent striker last season. We analysed and discussed where we need to fit in the new players. We wanted someone who can put the ball in the back of the net and Baiano fits in that bill. The goalkeeper Ismail Rabea, showed a lot of promise in the cup games, but lost his shape during the season and then lost his confidence. We have five men to choose from and we'll see who comes out well."
Wahda leave for a three-week training camp in Germany tonight. They will play six friendlies there and five more upon their return on Aug 16. The new season kicks off with the President's Cup preliminaries on Aug 27 and the Pro League from Sep 25. firstname.lastname@example.org