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So many fixtures and so little time

A spate of international fixtures arrives when trying to fit a 22-match Pro League season, a 12-round Etisalat Cup and a five-round President's Cup.

Had the months of November and December each contained 50 days this year, this all may have worked out. The various national teams, the 12 top-flight clubs and their players might not have been stretched to the breaking point. And beyond.

If we were working with seven-week months the men who play the game, and coach it, might not be trying to decide if they are angry, exasperated or just plain exhausted. And supporters might actually have an idea of who is playing in which competition, and when.

Back in the summer, the Football Association (FA) knew it was faced with scheduling problems. Officials saw major international fixtures clustered menacingly at the end of the year like icebergs in the north Atlantic.

The Asian Games in China for Under 23 teams, beginning November 7 and extending to well, the country's best young players are still in it. They play in the quarter-finals tomorrow.

The Gulf Cup, in Yemen, beginning November 22 and potentially stretching to December 4.

The Club World Cup (CWC), in Abu Dhabi, December 8 through 18, in which Al Wahda is entered and upon whom the hopes of the country rest.

The Asian Cup, in Qatar, January 7 through 29. Or, yes, what could eat up almost a month for the senior national team.

So, where is the trouble?

It arrives when trying to fit a 22-match Pro League season, a 12-round Etisalat Cup and a five-round President's Cup around those international fixtures.

Things are not going well. Let us count the ways.

The Pro League season began on August 26, in brutal heat, a month ahead of its 2009 start. But that was planned. What was not planned was the surprise contender Baniyas complaining they would be severely diminished when their members on the U23 team went to China.

Officials reacted not only by postponing six Pro League matches on the first weekend of November, it backed up the previous week by several days, confusing nearly everyone. Including the clubs.

Believing they had an open week, some teams planned a long weekend. At Al Wasl, Sergio Farias gave his players four days off. That became a problem when it was decided that five rounds of the Etisalat Cup, totalling 30 matches, would be moved forward a week to fill the November 5-6 void. Teams scrambled to reassemble. Farias said football officials had devalued the cup by changing the schedule with such little notice. The changes also prolonged the dead stop to the Pro League season. It now is on hiatus for 44 days, from October 27 until December 12.

More trouble: if Wahda defeat an amateur team from Papua New Guinea in the Club World Cup on December 8, they meet the Asian champions Seongnam on December 12 - the same date Wahda are to play Baniyas in a Pro League match. Another postponement. That would make for seven postponed Pro League matches.

A major issue is the demand on a limited pool of Emirati players. The U23 team includes almost half of the national team. Several more senior national team members play for Wahda, who have been excused from lending their men to the Gulf Cup team with the Club World Cup looming.

What is left of the national team plays India in a friendly tonight (which was not listed on the FA's website as late as yesterday), then go to Yemen for a tournament with deep meaning in the region - and a very shallow squad.

Meantime, the clubs find themselves stripped of their most talented Emiratis for what must seem like forever, the Pro League season is reduced to dim memories and fans are left to puzzle over who is playing this week in a diminished Etisalat Cup.

Could the country's football officials have forestalled this upheaval? Perhaps only by beginning the season even earlier and ending it even later. Turns out those 50-day months were never really an option.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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