x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

More exposure and money for UAE footballers just a phone call away

Al Ain's Omar Abdulrahman and other UAE football players could benefit at home and around the world by hiring a sports agent.

Al Ain's Omar Abdulrahman is just one of several UAE players who could potentially benefit from hiring a sports agent. Jaime Puebla / The National
Al Ain's Omar Abdulrahman is just one of several UAE players who could potentially benefit from hiring a sports agent. Jaime Puebla / The National

Agents rarely are a positive influence in world football. For many of them, their goals as intermediaries are simple: to keep for themselves as much money as they can from dealings between players and clubs.

But agents also can be necessary evils.

Every player needs advice at some stage and young ones might need representation, although it would make more sense for most of them to engage a contract lawyer and a financial adviser, professionals who charge by the hour rather than demand a percentage of a salary or a fixed fee.

Players of a certain level of fame might also need a commercial agent who can find potential sponsors and bring in corporate backers. All those people deserve a fee and earn their money.

To date, football agents are not prominent figures in the UAE. Most of the high-profile players in the Pro League do not have an agent at all. Agents, however, are in a position to revolutionise their dealings with Emirati players if they focus on raising a player's profile as product endorsers and brand ambassadors.

This could also be one way to raise the image of the Pro League: use the stars of the game here to promote local clubs and competitions.

Ali Mabkhout, the UAE and Al Jazira player, told me he does not have an agent. Why? His response was rather alarming: he just shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't have an agent," he said. "I have never been approached by any brand or company to endorse their product, but I would love to be a brand ambassador for products. It's great for my image and for my club's image."

Ali Al Nuaimi, a spokesman for Jazira, said: "We never get calls at the club from brands or sponsors wanting to make a deal for our players or have them as a brand ambassadors for their product. Instead, we get countless amount of calls from agents who only want to sell us players because they think we have unlimited money so they can make a profit out of it."

That could be one reason why UAE players do not have representation: they feel agents only want money from them.

Al Wahda's Ismail Matar is the one UAE player with a history of dealings in commercial endorsements; he has been an ambassador for Etisalat and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank and has been featured on several billboards around Dubai.

Amer Abdulrahman, the Baniyas and UAE midfielder, has ties with Nike, his boot sponsor, and also now can be seen on billboards.

We have seen how Major League Soccer in the US used David Beckham, the most high-profile footballer on the planet, to boost the game there.

Perhaps domestic clubs here could work with agents to help them construct beneficial endorsement deals.

Such deals will not pull in the crowd at the stands next week, but it will surely raise the game's image among Emirati fans, and it can create a buzz that exists outside the confines of the game. A brand that raises a player's profile helps raise the profile of the league. A higher-profile league helps the brands the players endorse.

This is the right time for the UAE players to become brand ambassadors, after the championship in the Gulf Cup and the debut appearance, last year, in the Summer Olympics.

It still baffles me why Omar Abdulrahman is not on television and billboards endorsing brands: he is the face of UAE football, without any question.

The power of agents needs to be limited in the UAE, but we cannot ignore the role of advisors in raising a player's visibility. Brand endorsement may be nearly unknown here, but it does not have to be in the future, and with careful vetting of agents we could see changes that would benefit players, clubs and the Pro League.


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