x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A giant leap forward for Emirates football

The arrival of strikers such as Trezeguet, Grafite, Olivera and Gyan this season only shows how much progress football has made in the UAE.

David Trezeguet scored plenty of goals for Hercules in the Spanish Primera Liga.
David Trezeguet scored plenty of goals for Hercules in the Spanish Primera Liga.

Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager, could only shake his head in astonishment last weekend as he described Asamoah Gyan's move from his club to Al Ain as "baffling".

"Why would anyone want to leave the Premier League for the United Arab Emirates, with all due respect?" asked Bruce, who then added that he would allow other people to draw their own conclusions about why this had happened.

In fact, the reasons are relatively unimportant behind Gyan moving to the UAE in the same summer as David Trezeguet joined Baniyas, Diego Maradona, the Al Wasl coach, signed Juan Manuel Olivera, a two-time leading scorer in the Argentina league, and Edinaldo Batista Libanio - or Grafite as he is known - a former footballer of the year in Germany, arrived at Al Ahli, to name just some of the transfer activity.

For football fans, who live in the country regardless of their nationality, the wealth of striking talent in the domestic league for this upcoming season should be enjoyed, and there could be plenty to enjoy for the watchers of the professional clubs in the months ahead.

While Gyan's decision may be baffling to the former Manchester United captain, if Bruce had been studying what has happened in the UAE over the past couple of months then he would have noticed this country is no longer a rest home for faded stars; rather it's a now league where some top internationals want to spend a few of their best years.

Gyan was playing with a well-supported Premier League side with hopes of European football. Indeed, the idea was for the Ghanaian to lead their attack, and yet he will be in Al Ain, which is an excellent coup for the garden city club and the sport in general in the Emirates.

Some of the summer signings across the 12 top clubs are in or close to their prime. Gyan is only 25, and the rest have plenty of football left in them, so it is hardly a case of them looking for one last pay day.

Take Trezeguet, for instance. You don't win a World Cup, with France in 1998, and score 138 goals in 245 league games for Juventus, the highest scoring non-Italian for the Turin club, if he was anything but a top professional.

It would be fair to assume, before a ball is kicked, that he is not in Dubai for a holiday, even at 33. He even scored one of his 12 Primera Liga goals last season against Barcelona for Hercules in Spain, and 12 goals for a relegated team in a top European league is a fair return.

Al Wasl's Olivera has only just turned 30, and in May played in the Uruguay Cup final with Penarol, one of South America's biggest clubs .

However, the biggest star of all may be the Brazilian, Grafite, at Al Ahli. Go on YouTube and watch his goal from the 2009/10 season in a 5-1 win for his Wolfburg team against Bayern Munich. He dribbled past four players before finishing with his heel.

Grafite was the Bundeliga's Player of the Year two seasons ago, the year when Bayern Munich reached the Champions League final. He is 32, not old and played for Brazil only last year against the Republic of Ireland. That is not the recent track record of someone whose best days are no more than ancient history.

Not all the top foreign strikers are new faces. Al Jazira have retained the services of the Brazilian centre-forward pair of Ricardo Oliveira and Bare, both hugely instrumental in last season's runaway title success. Both deserve credit for their enthusiasm in every match for the Abu Dhabi club. They could easily play for a well known European side.

Perhaps the presence of Maradona has raised the game for everyone, whether they would acknowledge this or not. No longer is the fact that a player comes from Brazil enough, although many of them do hail from the land of the coffee bean, but they need to be more than a few levels above has-been.

The potential downside to these gala signings is the lack of opportunities there might be for the local would-be centre-forwards and if clubs continue with this policy then fewer UAE players will be given the chance to score goals for their respective teams.

Srecko Katanec, the former UAE coach, bemoaned the lack of good goalscorers at his disposal, but the local players will, however, learn from some genuine top-class strikers, when and how to move, the channels to look for, and it's better to take these lessons from hungry internationals than someone topping up their pension and tan.

It might well be the case that everyone is a winner.


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