Fate played a huge role in the return of Austrian Josef Hickersberger to lead Al-Wahda Sports Club at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010, which kicks off this Wednesday.
The former Austrian international led Al Wahda to the UAE league title last season, securing a ticket to the global showcase in the process, but then opted to leave the club after a disagreement with the club’s directors. Romanian Laszlo Boloni succeeded him as head coach but did not hold the position for long before being sacked in September. Then came the turn of Brazilian Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, otherwise known as Tite, whose stay was also short lived as he quit to take charge of Corinthians in his homeland.
Bacchi’s departure threw Al Wahda into crisis, but as fate would have it Hickersberger happened to be in nearby Abu Dhabi at the time, and agreed to return and manage the team at the FIFA Club World Cup.
In a recent interview with FIFA.com, Hickersberger admitted his return was “a gift from above". He added: "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would take charge of Al Wahda again. My appointment came as a shock, especially as they’re on the verge of playing in the Club World Cup, and every coach dreams of appearing in this massive tournament.”
Hickersberger, who coached Austria at the FIFA World Cup™ in 1990 and at UEFA EURO 2008, concluded, “I was in Abu Dhabi purely by chance when Bacchi resigned and the question of my return came up. I reached an agreement with the club and am extremely happy to return. The fact that Al Wahda are playing in this competition helped make my mind up.”
Al Wahda face Papua New Guinea and Oceania champions Hekari United in the opening match of the competition, and Hickersberger revealed he has studied their opponents. He said: “I watched them twice on a visit to Papua New Guinea and, contrary to popular opinion, believe they cannot be discounted. Hekari United have two very tall strikers who will be a threat to any team, a strong midfield line-up and a right midfielder who has immense technical ability.”
Hickersberger is clearly wary of underestimating the Oceanian champions: “Football is all about the effort you put in on the pitch. We must respect our opponents. The players must understand this and I will be driving this home to them. We have a difficult challenge to overcome and, only when that’s done, can we think about the second round.”
The 62-year-old coach nonetheless feels his side are well placed to make an impact. “Al Wahda have prepared very well for this," he said. "These preparations began a long time ago, with a special programme that was put in place to condition the players so they would be at their peak during the competition. We held a training camp in the Egyptian town of Ismailiya, where we carried out a group of training exercises. We also played two friendly matches and we think that all this, along with the league matches we have played, will be excellent preparation for the tournament.”
Hickersberger also believes his team will get a great deal of benefit from Al-Ahli’s participation in the tournament this time last year, “We’ve learned a lot but, that said, Al Wahda’s situation is different from that of Al-Ahli, and we hope to showcase Emirati football.”
The former Austrian international ended with a plea to local fans to come out in numbers to cheer on his side: “I hope that the crowd will be behind us. We have a great chance to create history for the club and for Emirati football in general. Everyone should support Al Wahda as we have a very difficult task facing us, but I’m confident that the ability and experience of my players will enable them to fulfil the club’s aspirations in an event featuring some of the top teams in world football.”