A day with: Maxi Malacalza - Starring in the UAE's polo boom

Matt Jones - Editor 08:50 24/03/2016
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Maxi Malacalza.

Maxi Malacalza sounds like he could be the next superstar Argentine footballer, but while he admits a love for Lionel Messi, it is on horseback that the 28-year-old has made a name for himself.

The South American will be in action at Skydive Dubai between April 1-2 at the Beach Polo Cup Dubai, the 12th edition of the tournament in the UAE.

He has a special affiliation for the Emirates as it was at the 2006 edition of the tournament that Malacalza turned professional. He will be among the globe’s leading players returning to the UAE next week with others coming from Brazil, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and of course the Emirates.

This year’s tournament features four participating teams with the event’s presenting sponsor Cadillac, and team sponsors Qatar Airways, Lindt and Hills Advertising. Ahead of the tournament he took time out to speak to Sport360.

You will be appearing at the Beach Polo Cup Dubai next month. How excited are you to be taking part?

We are working all year to participate in this. It’s a very big event and very competitive and a very important event in the calendar. It is one of the most important tournaments in the UAE. It’s very prestigious in world polo, so we are very excited.

What do you think your team’s chances of success are?

I’ve been playing for two years with Stuart (Wrigley), who is an English player on my team and he’s very good. I think we have a good chance.

The other teams are very good and I will face a fellow Argentine in each game so it will be tough, but I’m quite happy.

Maxi Malacalza.

Maxi Malacalza.

It’s all down to the luck on the day and the luck of the draw so we will see. But we think we can win it. I’m from Argentina so we always think we can win.

Do you play more beach polo or normal polo on grass?

I usually play normal polo throughout the year. I played beach polo for the first time a long time ago here in the UAE and then I played in 2012 as well. I started playing again about two years ago and I got invited to come here, but it is only here I play beach polo.

Is it strange or hard to adapt for this tournament seeing as you play regular polo on grass the rest of the year?

It’s not that different. Most of the rules are the same. Most of the differences you will find as a player is the size of the ball, the surface, you can stay up maybe a little bit more on sand and the number of players and size of the pitch are different.

But I will tell you, it is very tough, but so far with the facilities we get at beach polo, the level of the surface and the way they produce it is very good.

We can go the same speed and can play at a high level. It is not that difficult or different as a player. As a spectator I will say it is completely different to normal polo as you can almost feel the horses and the players.

You can hear what I am shouting to a team-mate. It’s almost like you’re on the pitch, so for someone who’s never watched a game before, it’s exciting.

How did you get into playing polo?

It started when I was a young kid. My father always worked with horses and he loved them, and so it was something very easy for me to get attached to. Then I chose to do a sport on a horse and I went for polo.

When did you turn professional?

The first time I played professionally was when I came to the UAE in 2006, when I was 18. I played in Argentina but that was just for myself. I started to take it more seriously though after coming to the UAE.

So playing polo in the UAE is quite special for you?

I’ve played in the UAE since 2006 and since then I have come here every season.

I’ve played a lot here with my cousin and the level here always raises up, big time.

Every time I play here it’s a huge difference. Polo here is starting to get to a very good level and position worldwide.

You have many tournaments like the Gold Cup or Ghantoot, which are at the top level like those in England or in the United States.

It’s the same with the beach polo. It’s on the same level as the World Cup.

Polo is so popular in your home country. Why is that?

I think it’s because, for us, we like to get on a horse. We are attached to our horses. In Argentina we are also lovers of horses.

The main thing needed to play is a horse and in other countries it can be very expensive to get a horse, so for us to get a horse is easy. The country, as a land, it is very easy to make a polo pitch anywhere. In other countries it will take a lot of money and time, but in Argentina it is very easy.

Maxi Malacalza.

Maxi Malacalza.

With the popularity of polo and horse sports in the UAE and Argentina, do you see similarities between both countries and their love of horses and sport?

The UAE people are very close and very attached to their horses as well. You see you have many sports that you can do with a horse, like racing, polo, showjumping, endurance.

There is a lot and that’s why when you see any event that belongs to a horse, a lot of people are coming to see it and take part.

You see many Arabic people belong to horse clubs and are participating in these events. Horse sports are big here, especially polo, which has been played a lot here in the last six or seven years.

There’s been a boom here and it is becoming as big a polo playing country as England, the States or Spain, which is very important.

How do you keep fit and stay in shape to play the sport. Do you go to the gym?

I like to exercise to keep me fit but normally I ride almost every day, so even when I don’t have a game it’s part of my training to be on a horse or riding so I don’t push myself too much perhaps.

A good diet is also important. My main exercise is just to be on a horse every single day. That’s enough for me.

Do you watch or play any other sports?

I watch a lot of football. I’m too close to the horse sports than any other kind but of course I am from Argentina so I love football and I keep up with what’s going on. I love Messi so I watch a bit of Barcelona of course.

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