Al Wahda's Ismail Matar had only a brief loan stint with the Qatari club Al Sadd in May, but it was an eye-opener in many ways. The two games in the Crown Prince Cup in Qatar gave the UAE's leading player his first glimpse of "real professionalism" and reignited his desire to challenge himself outside his own country.
"It was a great experience," says the 26-year-old. "I saw real professionalism there and I believe this experience will be good for me. Though it was just a short visit, I benefited a lot, learning about many things, about many aspects of the game that I was not aware of. "I hope I can share my experience here and tell people about what I saw in Qatar, the way they organise their games and how they deal with their players."
In his first game, Matar came off the bench in the first-half with his team a man short and trailing Al Ahli 2-0. The situation brought the best out of the diminutive Emirati as he helped his side claw back the deficit with an assist and a fine strike. The match ended 3-3 before Sadd triumphed in the penalty shootout. Matar delighted his new fans and said the challenge of proving himself all over again spurred him on.
"When you are playing in your own country, you are famous.You are a big star because you have already proven yourself," he said. "Everybody knows the quality you have and there is nothing left to prove. So sometimes you will play good, sometimes you will play bad. But when you play in another country, you have to prove yourself all over again. "That is the challenge; you need that challenge to keep improving. They have hired you not because you are a big name, but because you are a good player and you want to prove them right."
There has never been any doubt about Matar's talent since his arrival on the international stage at the 2003 World Youth Championship in the UAE. The tournament had a glittering array of future stars like Javier Mascherano, Carlos Tevez, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Garcia and Nilmar, yet Matar overshadowed them and walked away with the player of the tournament award. The Golden Ball generated plenty of interest for Matar and some great offers, but he has remained in the UAE while players like Tevez and Iniesta blazed their way to fame. Matar's fate found sympathy from former UAE coach Dominique Bathenay.
"When I look at the other stars in Europe at the moment, I feel sorry that Matar is not getting the chance to be playing there and proving his class," said the Frenchman. firstname.lastname@example.org