Valdivia could finally fulfil al-Wahda’s ambitions

The Brazilian knows the UAE well, having played for al-Ain between 2008 and 2010

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If the United Arab Emirates’ al-Wahda sent a scout to Chile for this summer’s Copa America, it probably did not take long to identity Jorge Valdivia as a transfer target. The host nation - which won the competition for the first time in 99 years - counts some of world football’s brightest and best players among its ranks, but none shone as vividly as the playmaker.

Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Eduardo Vargas and Charles Aranguiz all enjoyed stellar tournaments, but Valdivia was the driving force behind Chile’s historic triumph. So al-Wahda have pulled off quite the coup by luring the 31-year-old to the club this summer, because while their Copa America scout was surely impressed, many will have been too.

Indeed, Valdivia confirmed upon his signing for the Abu Dhabi club that other offers had been made for his services. He knows the UAE well, having played for al-Ain between 2008 and 2010, but he returns a matured and frankly better player. Some decline sharply after turning 30, yet Valdivia seems to have improved.

Where will Valdivia fit in under manager Javier Aguirre? al-Wahda are already one of the most inherently attacking sides in the Arabian Gulf League (AGL), as demonstrated by their impressive 4-0 opening-day win over Dibba al-Fujairah last week. So how does the Mexican coach plan on finding a place for his new signing? Given the attacking options already at hand, it could be quite the task.

If Aguirre plans on playing Valdivia in his best position, it would leave Abdulla Saeed without an obvious place in the starting line-up. Conversely, the primary beneficiary of the Chilean’s arrival at the club could be Mohamed al-Shehhi, the UAE international striker who at times during last Thursday’s win looked somewhat short of creative service. Valdivia will certainly rectify that.

The summer arrival of Brazilian midfielder Denilson also has the potential to underline al-Wahda’s title credentials, and if Aguirre can find a way to quickly bed in his new midfield unit, the Abu Dhabi side will have a significant head-start on the competition. It could well be the key to their AGL challenge, along with the sustained form of Sebastian Tagliabue, the Argentine who has scored 43 goals over the past two seasons.

Valdivia might be good enough to effectively win a trophy - either the league title or the President’s Cup - on his own. He most likely will not take much time to acclimatize to his new surroundings, given that they are not so new for the Chilean. On and off the field, al-Wahda’s move for the playmaker - one of South America’s best - looks a shrewd one.

“I know this country well and the way of life,” the Chilean explained upon his return to the UAE. “My family enjoyed the wonderful lifestyle we had at al-Ain, so it wasn’t a difficult decision to return to the UAE. I had several offers from various clubs around the world, but decided to join al-Wahda when the offer was made.”

From what is known - and has been said - it would seem al-Wahda reached an agreement with former club Palmeiras some time ago, only for his arrival to be delayed following Palmeiras’s insistence that the playmaker see out his contract until its expiration on Aug. 17.

“I had so many other options, but when I got the call from al-Wahda I had no doubts,” Valdivia said. “When I got the call from al-Wahda management, they made it clear they were very interested in me. I know the league, I know the city and I know the country. My family is very happy to be here. That was also important.”

In the wider sense, Valdivia’s signing could be the final component of a project that has been two seasons in the making. al-Wahda might have finished fourth in the AGL last term, as opposed to second the season before, but progress has nonetheless been steady as the club targets its first league title since 2010.

With Aguirre - a seasoned veteran of the global game - in charge, and Valdivia their new creator-in-chief, the Abu Dhabi side might finally have the right composition to follow through on their grand ambition.

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