x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

My UAE: Yousef Shaker, coach of the UAE rugby sevens team

My UAE: Nick Leech speaks to Yousef Shaker, assistant coach of the UAE rugby Sevens and founder of one of the country's first rugby dynasties.

Yousuf Shaker led the all-Emirati national sevens side to its first win and is a qualified coach. Sarah Dea / The National
Yousuf Shaker led the all-Emirati national sevens side to its first win and is a qualified coach. Sarah Dea / The National

Yousef Shaker has already guaranteed himself several entries in the annals of the UAE’s sporting history. Not only did the 27-year-old captain the first all-Emirati national sevens side to their first ever victory, against Uzbekistan in last year’s HSBC Asian Sevens Series in Thailand, but in January he also became one of the first Emiratis to earn a level-one coaching badge from rugby union’s international governing body, the International Rugby Board.

Born in Fujairah, Shaker started playing touch rugby while studying at Dubai Men’s College in 2005, before graduating to playing as a prop in sevens rugby and as a second row in full 15-a-side. He now balances his career as an electrical engineer with Dewa with his position as the assistant coach to the Shaheen, the UAE Rugby Federation’s national sevens team.

Shaker now spends much of his time promoting rugby to Emirati schoolchildren, but his first converts were his brothers. “When I started and I saw that there weren’t many Emirati players, I asked my brothers to come and play, and our family gave us their support.”

Rugby soon became a Shaker family affair. Yousef’s younger brother, Mohannad, 25, plays for the Shaheen, while his older brother, Mohammed, 34, now manages the team. In 2010, all three brothers made UAE rugby history when they played alongside expats for a mixed UAE sevens side in its international debut against Sri Lanka in ­Colombo.

While he admits that Emirati rugby still has a long way to go, Yousef Shaker’s eyes are set firmly on the future. That means even more coaching qualifications and the possibility of an Emirati sevens team at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“If we want to achieve our dream we can,” says Shaker. “It is in our hands now.”

Most prized possession

Everywhere I go, I always take a rugby ball with me, but I also have a rugby ball signed by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. He met us during training last Ramadan, told us to work hard and wished us luck for the season. I gave him the ball and he signed it for me, and I had my picture taken with him. This isn’t just something for my children but for UAE rugby as well.

My sporting inspiration is …

I am happy because I have met many rugby legends in Dubai, but Trevor Leota stands out. They call him The Terminator. When he makes a tackle, he puts his man on the ground. Khalas.

Favourite stadium

We have visited many countries, but the 7evens in Dubai is different from all the others, and not just because it is my home. The ground is different. We played in India and it was like playing on concrete, not grass. Every team that comes here always say they want to play here again.

Favourite match

When the All Blacks [New Zealand] played against South Africa in the Tri Nations test series in 2002. This was before I started playing rugby, but when I came into the world of rugby I started watching videos of matches and many games on YouTube to see what I could learn.

Favourite player

Jonah Lomu. This man had everything that you need in rugby: quick hands, hard tackling and he could run fast. I met him here in Dubai when he visited us in training and he gave us good advice. “When you approach a player,” he said, “go for him. Don’t wait for him to come to you.”

I am proud when …

I see a young player come into an old player’s position and they do their best for the national team. We have a second team now, and that makes me happy, because it means that rugby is growing in the UAE.

Favourite destination

Durban, South Africa. We visited the Sharks Academy there for a training camp and there were more than 300 players playing rugby. It was amazing to see that many people playing rugby in one place.

Favourite type of exercise

Nobody likes fitness.

My favourite way to relax

I like to visit other teams, like the Exiles and Wasps, to see how they play and what they do.

Favourite TV show

WWE fighting is my favourite.