x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Hamdan Al Kamali move could be mutually beneficial

But with the decision by Al Wahda to allow Al Kamali to join the French Ligue 1 club Lyon, this culture is starting to turn around.

No Emirati footballer has ever played in a top league in Europe, but Hamdan Al Kamali will soon be the first.

And this has opened the doors for other young and talented UAE players to follow in the footsteps of the Al Wahda defender.

Clubs from abroad have come knocking on the door for Emirati players but, until now, they have been rejected by the country's clubs, sometimes without any negotiations, even when players favoured the move because it would give them an opportunity to enhance their skills.

This is one of the main reasons why the national team is suffering: the players just do not have experience in highly competitive leagues.

Players moving from UAE clubs is almost unheard of because the owners have, traditionally, been unwilling to let them go.

But with the decision by Al Wahda to allow Al Kamali to join the French Ligue 1 club Lyon, this culture is starting to turn around.

The move ends a difficult period for the 22-year-old full-back, who was dropped from the Olympic team and was subsequently banned by the Football Association for a Pro League match against Al Shabab because of his efforts to get the transfer to Lyon approved.

But he continued to push for his move to Lyon, and his efforts paid off.

Now he will become the first Emirati player to ply his trade at a first division club in Europe.

"It is a dream for Hamdan and for the national team as well as for the club, because it now gives the confidence for the other players to follow on Hamdan's path," Josef Hickersberger, the Al Wahda coach, said.

"It is a very good decision for Sheikh Diab [bin Zayed, the Wahda chairman] to release him."

The UAE has good facilities, stadiums, coaches and all that is needed to develop a strong national team.

But what is missing? The main thing is a core of players with international experience.

But this could soon change if the UAE continues building relationships with foreign clubs to develop young Emirati players. Al Kamali is expected to play with Lyon's reserves team to start with, but should progress gradually to the first team.

"He can open the door of Olympique Lyonnais in the UAE," said Jean-Michel Aulas, the chairman and owner of the Lyon club. "We will try to build a partnership for training. We hope to create economic flows with these countries that will be tomorrow's leaders in football.

"We are tracking several players in the UAE; the priority would be to take the best young player. For now, things are under negotiation. We are preparing for the future at the club with emerging markets."

However, there are rumours from sources in France that Lyon made the deal for Al Kamali because they want to attract sponsorship deals and investments from UAE.

Economic conditions at French clubs are bad, so every club is seeking help, perhaps from the Middle East. Paris St-Germain are owned by Qatar investors and it appears money is no object for them. Lyon, the rumours say, are angling to be taken over by a Middle Eastern investor as well.

Regardless of the reason, Al Kamali's move to France could help fix the shortcomings in the national team and soon they may be heading in the right direction. Players like Ali Al Habsi of Oman, who is the goalkeeper at Wigan Athletic in the English Premier League, has made all Omanis proud.

We hope Hamdan Al Kamali will make all Emiratis proud and young Emirati players will follow his footsteps.

Omar Al Raisi is an Emirati football writer and analyst who lives in Abu Dhabi.