Domestic professional football was plunged into chaos yesterday after the UAE Football League was informed it has been dissolved by the Government and its duties turned over to the Football Association.
Club officials said the 12 teams in the domestic top flight were in a state of near-paralysis at a crucial point in the summer when they are attempting to establish squad lists for the season scheduled to begin in September.
“Everyone is in a state of shock,” a club executive said. “Everything is up in the air. No one knows what is going to happen. It is all uncertainty and surprise.”
In his decision, Ibrahim Abdul Malik, the Secretary General of the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare, ended the three-year existence of the nation’s first fully professional league.
He said he acted because the league had “repeatedly ignored the authority’s warnings” to “abide by the official original name”, the League of Pro Football Clubs.
The league, led by the board chairman Dr Tariq Al Tayer, had marketed itself as the UAE Football League because it is “more expressive of the nature of its work and includes the country’s name”.
League and club officials said the issues were deeper and broader than the dispute over the league name and represented a hostile takeover of the league by the FA.
“Somebody pulled the rug from under their feet by forming the UFL and they never got used to it and they would like to clip our wings,” one said.
Other points of contention, according to club and league officials, included the fixtures calendar, availability of players for national teams and the FA’s concern at debt being incurred by clubs who have signed globally prominent coaches and players such as Diego Maradona and Fabio Cannavaro.
The FA late yesterday announced it would create a five-person committee to manage the affairs of the league, the Arabic-language daily Al Ittihad reported.
Executive management will remain in place, including the chief executive Carlo Nohra “in order to ensure stability”.
Al Ittihad additionally reported: “The FA has fixed a one-year period for the management of the Pro League, with elections due in June 2012 to coincide with the FA elections, so as to choose the new members who would lead the Pro League commission.”
Also of note: the FA said in the future the league chairman would be an FA vice president “in order to enhance co-ordination and planning between the two bodies”.
Club officials remain worried about the league’s future. Few would speak on the record.
One feared that the progress made by the league in its three seasons, including steady attendance gains, additional corporate sponsorship and a commitment to expanding the fan base, would be lost.
“My biggest fear is we go back 10 years when the league was semi-professional, at best, actually semi-amateur,” he said.
Nohra, was upset by comments attributed yesterday to an anonymous FA official that read, in part: “I think we started off with the professionalism aspect too quickly, and the UFL did not have prior experience to go ahead. And now we feel the need to break down this building and start the process all over again,”
Nohra said: “I hope people recognise the accomplishments of the UFL and the statutes we operated under, which the FA established. We never overstepped our boundaries and operated within them.
“Sometimes people feel we worked beyond our scope but those people should look at those standards and see which we have exceeded.
“The activities of the UFL will not stop. The FA may oversee those, as opposed to the board. We have done good work.
“I don’t want to allow these accusations by people in the FA, who don’t have the courage to use their names, to go unanswered.”