x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Advance the Etisalat Cup fixtures

Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr coach, is right to suggest the competition will attract more spectators if staged as a precursor to the Pro League season.

Al Shabab and Ajman battled inside a near-empty Rashid Stadium this week. Jaime Puebla / The National
Al Shabab and Ajman battled inside a near-empty Rashid Stadium this week. Jaime Puebla / The National

The 230 spectators who turned out for Monday's Etisalat Cup match between Al Shabab and Ajman provided the competition with another reality check. The near-empty Rashid Stadium would have done little to inspire the players, or persuaded those watching on television to swap their homes for the grandstand.

Poor attendances are a familiar irritant in UAE football, yet the Etisalat Cup suffers the most, the tournament continually considered by the country's top clubs to be the least significant.

Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr coach, has suggested organisers investigate the possibility of shifting the competition to a date before the Pro League begins. That makes sense.

Moving it to the start of the season, when supporters would catch a first glimpse of summer signings and anticipation of the new season is at its highest, could spike interest.

It would also eradicate the feeling the cup is simply a filler for weeks when national teams play, where other top leagues use the official Fifa rest period as exactly that.

The league needs to be more proactive, too. Effort has been made to offer a more enjoyable viewing experience – refreshments are now available – but that is not enough. Free transport and a more interactive experience could also entice fans.

Admittedly, the cup is a chance for younger players to gain valuable game time, but given the scarcity of talent on show this week, how much different is it to the reserve league? Those 230 spectators, no matter how committed, hardly contributed to a "big match" experience.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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