Vasco commands the United Arab Emirates team, which will serve Albiceleste as the last test before the World Cup
Federico Cristofanelli Arruabarrena talks about the United Arab Emirates-Argentina match
Rodolfo ArruabarrenaHe is currently one of the Argentines who has adapted the most and best to the Arab world. After directing Boca, he landed at Al Wasl in 2016 and built the second half of his career as manager in the Middle East. He went through Qatar's Al-Rayyan, returned to the United Arab Emirates to command Al-Ahli and later experimented on African soil with Pyramids FC. The World Cup happened very close to him: in front of the Emirati national team, he lost the continental playoffs against Australia, who then defeated Peru and sealed his ticket.
Hours away from facing none other than the Argentine team, the Vasco spoke for a few minutes with Infobae and confessed that his children pressured him to his players do not hurt Lionel Messi in the friendly that will be played this Wednesday in Abu Dhabi. “Both of them (because of the children) are breaking my balls. Photo, t-shirt. I tell them 'look, I'm going to play a game, eh'.“Don't touch it”… No, no, everything. You laugh, but they call me, they are obsessed. I don't give them much balls, luckily I'm far away and it's the mother who takes care of them”, details the former defender who once knew how to wear the light blue and white shirt.
The little Arruabarrena are fans of the Albiceleste, even the one who was born in Spain. One has supreme idolatry for Messi, the other leans towards Gerónimo Rulli, whom he sees often in Villarreal: “I got a goalkeeper and he is with it. Son of a p…, you can see it in Spain. Now he is also with Pepe Reina, whom he did not know, but he knows that he played with me ”. To calm the anxieties of his children, the Vasco obtained tickets and tickets for the round of 16, quarterfinals and semifinals (assuming that Argentina will advance in first place in their group): “I hope that things go well for the team like this I get this annoying off my back.”
Faced with the particular context that he will live in before the World Cup, the 47-year-old strategist laughs but assures that he would not sign the 0-0 between the United Arab Emirates and Argentina in the friendly, without injured players and with the Selection of Lionel Scaloni in the World Cup final: “I never sign anything. For us it is a nice challenge, especially for the boys, to compete with these internationally renowned players. Although no one likes to lose, what interests us is being able to live up to it and be competitive. We'll see if we make it or not”.
The coach of the United Arab Emirates, Argentina's last rival before the World Cup
In full preparation for the clash with Argentina and the one they will play against Kazakhstan three days later, the Vasco focuses on watching and analyzing games, holding talks with their footballers (all from the local area) and crossing the fingers so that they arrive in optimum physical condition. “I try not to talk too much about Messi, I can make a joke with those I trust the most.They know that it is a historic game for the Emirates, that the whole world will see them. We want to improve what we did in this time and not stay on a plateau”, he says.
And he supports the Scaloni process at the head of the national team: “The numbers and the soccer idea of Argentina are there. That is what supports a coach. You see a fresh team, with joy, the players respond no matter who plays and that is the merit of the coach and his staff. There has been a lot of talk in the first few months and he has silenced those words with results. Play well or badly, one knows what Argentina is playing”.
A parenthesis opens in the chat via Zoom to refer to Boca Juniors. And the thing goes further. Arruabarrena lets go to talk about the culture to which he already seems accustomed. He confesses his addiction to cappuccino coffee (he does not drink mate or alcohol) and reviews his coexistence with Emiliano Vecchio in Al Ahli.
—Are you aware of what happens in mouth? Do you watch the games from a distance?
—Generally I see them when it is a very important game. If not the summaries for a schedule issue, but I'm aware. There are friendly people in there, former players, former teammates, Mauro Navas who was my assistant and is in the lower ranks. There are leaders I know. I am aware of everything. My children are from Villarreal and Boca; my daughters too, even more so because they are the ones who saw the most.
—Do you still have contact with Riquelme? Who do you usually talk to the most?
—The one I talk to the most is Mauro Navas. We haven't talked to Román for a while. Then with El Patrón (Bermúdez) when he was there or with Chicho (Serna) and Cata Díaz, whom I ran into. With El Negro (Ibarra) when he was in Boca we talked from time to time. I'm not one to break my balls a lot, I don't like to call a lot, but I've never had problems with anyone and if I have to talk about football, obviously I like it and we can chat a lot.
Arruabarrena continues to be in contact with people from Boca
—What is your assessment of the current process in Boca?
“They know where they are.” They know there will be criticism and praise. They have to try to have an important face in every situation, handle themselves well inside and outside the club. You haven't seen Negro (Ibarra) make big statements and that's a virtue. The less you talk, the less you're wrong. The results have been good, one may like the level of play and the other may not, that is very subjective. Now we will have to restructure some things, contracts, arrivals, departures and put together the next campus.
—You must be used to the Middle East after six years, but is there anything that still surprises you about Arab culture?
“I had to go to Iraq. You look at the news and say “oh, where the fuck am I going”. Although we are 600 kilometers from Baghdad, life is normal. You can talk to some locals, we have a photographer who is Iraqi and he says that it is not as much as it is said. Iraqis are very educated, they read a lot. In the street there is a lot of book sales and most of them have Saddam Hussein on their cover. For them he is a very important person. And you look the other way and say “this was a bastard.” Then here (in the Emirates) life is normal, you have a lot of attractions and things to do, there is security, it is an expensive country, but the people on a day-to-day basis make you feel good. It's a wonderful country.
—And any customs you've picked up since you arrived?
“He didn't used to, but he drank a lot of coffee.” Cappuccino. I have to try to lower that a bit because I take two or three a day. I got used to directing teams. I would stay until 11 pm waiting for everyone to go to their rooms. What a cappuccino here, what a cappuccino there… I have to cut that out.
—Don't drink alcohol…
—Here there is alcohol in some hotels, but no. I cappuccino. I don't drink mate either. I'm kind of weird, ha.
Was directing in the Middle East a temporary challenge that lasted?
—In principle, I had come to Al Wasl for a year to get to know, have an experience and lower what it had been like to direct Boca. Later I entered into different vortexes that this football has and I renewed. It was two years, then I went to Qatar, we had important achievements. We spent 10 months in Egypt for an Emirati investment group, we reached the semifinals of the Africa Cup in the midst of a pandemic and the Emirates team emerged, in which I know many boys that I made their debut or had. We are in a generation change, trying to be more competitive.
—Is it true that in a club they kicked you out even though the team was first in the table?
“Yes, in Shabab Al Ahli. Missing that last month, they kicked us out. But we already know, I have been for many years. I know the things that managers can dislike, but I think about sports and getting results. That exchange of opinions or different thoughts and mentalities caused us to be fired when we were 4 or 5 points ahead of the second. With the president of the club I get along great and I meet. But some of my decisions caused discomfort around him, among some administrative staff. He made local 17-year-old boys debut and left a foreigner on the bench. They don't understand these things, but I do it because I don't see the other player well. Today one of those boys is one of the main figures of the national team.
Since 2016, Vasco has gone to lead the Middle East and has remained in that environment
—How was living with tycoon Emiliano Vecchio, who when he returned to Argentina told a referee who had millions?
“He's a nice character. The first few months he played little or didn't play. In the second semester he played all the games and was fundamental. We had him and Mauro Díaz, who in my opinion fulfilled the same function with different characteristics. We could adapt Emiliano to another position (play 10 meters behind what he usually did) or we believed that in that place Mauro could give us much more than Emiliano. It's hard for the player to understand. He ended up being one of the figures in the two championships we achieved. He wanted to take him to Pyramids and it didn't happen. One of the comments he made to me was how, being an Argentine, he was not going to put it on. I told him that I have a double passport, Spanish and Argentine, and that at that moment he was more Spanish. I love him very much, I have a good relationship and I wrote to him until he had the million-dollar argument with Merlos. Now he has to be calm, recover, be with the family. He knows what football is like and he's going to come back in better shape.
—How have you evaluated the material you have so far?
—We have many boys between the ages of 19 and 23 who have experience at the local level. Some played in the Asian Champions League, but we lack international contact, that's what these friendlies are aimed at. We want to play against South American teams because they have that mischief that perhaps we lack. We were satisfied with the friendlies (0-1 defeat against Paraguay and 0-4 against Venezuela) and we are clear that we must improve. Against Paraguay we went out playing all the time, that caused the rival to get used to it and in some cases they would cut you and create problems, which is what happened. We lost with 5 minutes to go. They are little things. In Venezuela I explained to them that there was no VAR and they would have to be careful with the blocks. They blocked us two or three times, they headed us and one was a goal. I like to make history.
—What is the United Arab Emirates team for in the short, medium and long term?
—I saw a change in the physical, we have to insist on that. You have to improve physical issues and mentality. Technically they are good. Lacks a bit of professionalism. In January we will have the Gulf Cup in Iraq and then there will be the Eastern Cup in the Emirates. The Qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup begin in September. And the Asian Cup will be played in Qatar in January 2024. You have to think step by step, as Mostaza Merlo would say.
—Do you feel your head in the guillotine considering the dismissal you suffered in a club?
—No, because I trust the work we do. We had to readjust from being in a club to a national team. I like what I do and we have a staff that is in the small details to try to improve. I always tell the federation: I can stay for a month, a year or ten years. When I leave here I want them to say “this bastard left something behind”.
—And personally, what do you plan for the future?
—There are good contracts and money is important, but at this point I want these guys to be able to make a quality leap into the league. My contract is until July 2023. I have my family in Spain and I have always been interested in directing or competing in a European league. It may be the Spanish one because I spent many years there, but I don't know what the future holds for me. I don't know what can happen. Today I am here and I made a name for myself in a short time in this area, something that is very difficult to achieve. I like challenges and today I think about where I am. I want to respond to the people who trusted me and help the Emirates to make history by qualifying for the next World Cup. And that he has a litter of good players that will bring joy to his team.