x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Reading manager Brian McDermott wrong over wages claim at UAE players

Problems gaining work permits to play abroad and a lack of European clubs extending their scouting networks to the UAE are more likely examples of why players do not venture overseas, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Feb 10 : Abdulla Husain ( no 5 in blue right ) from Baniyas and Omar Abdulrahman ( no 10 in white ) from Al Ain in action during the President ´ s Cup football match between Al Ain vs Baniyas at Zabeel stadium in Dubai. Al Ain won the match by 2 - 1. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Sports. Story by Ahmed
DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Feb 10 : Abdulla Husain ( no 5 in blue right ) from Baniyas and Omar Abdulrahman ( no 10 in white ) from Al Ain in action during the President ´ s Cup football match between Al Ain vs Baniyas at Zabeel stadium in Dubai. Al Ain won the match by 2 - 1. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Sports. Story by Ahmed

Almost every UAE national team coach, from Bruno Metsu to Dominique Bathenay, Srecko Katanec and Abdullah Misfir, has spoken about the need for the country's best players to compete in Europe's top leagues, against the world's best, to grow as footballers.

Ask Asamoah Gyan or Grafite and they will readily reel off the names of Omar Abulrahman, Ali Mabkhout or Ahmed Khalil as Emiratis who have the talent to succeed in any league around the globe.

A decade earlier, they would have mentioned Ismail Matar - the winner of the best player award at the 2003 Youth World Cup, ahead of some of today's biggest stars such as Andres Iniesta, Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves.

Yet, aside from a one-match loan spell in Qatar, Matar never left the shores of the UAE. He kept dreaming of playing overseas, in any league, to challenge himself and for the chance of proving himself in front of a new audience. But that opportunity never came.

Why? If you believe Brian McDermott, the manager of the English Premier League club Reading, it is because of the "phenomenal" salaries that footballers earn in the UAE.

"If you have a player being paid tax free, then you are going to have to pay a lot of money to get them," McDermotttold The National.

Now, anyone connected with UAE football will readily concede there is probably too much money being paid to the football players here.

The Football Association has also taken note of that; they are in the process of implementing a salary cap.

But that probably is not the primary reason why Emiratis do not take their talents to distant lands. Ask any UAE player and he would be willing to play for a lot less if the opportunity arose.

The challenges are a bit more intrinsic, as Hamdan Al Kamali, pointed out.

The Al Wahda central defender, who spent the second half of the 2011/12 season on loan at the French club Lyon, believes the real challenge is adjusting to a different culture, a different lifestyle.

So McDermott's comment about the money seems a bit off the mark, especially when he concedes Reading do not have a scout based in the Middle East, nor do they feel it is essential.

It would be hard to imagine the parents of a 16 year old here asking for millions if Reading were to offer him a contract. But the club would never know of a talented young player in the Middle East because they are simply not looking at players from this part of the world.

The Reading manager, who joined the club as their chief scout in 2000, also suggested that Omar Abdulrahman had priced himself out of a deal with Manchester City last summer, when he went there for a trial after the London Olympics.

That again seems a bit far-fetched, keeping in mind the ownership of City.

And even if Abdulrahman had agreed to play for free, would he have got a work permit?

According to the UK Border Agency's points-based system, to be eligible for a work permit, a non-EU football player "must have played for his country in at least 75 per cent of its competitive A team matches for which he was available for selection during the previous two years", and his "country must have averaged at least 70th place in the official Fifa world rankings over the previous two years".

Nashat Akram was Fifa's reigning Midfielder of the Year when he agreed a deal with Manchester City in 2008, but he failed to get a work permit.

And the Iraqi had left a US$1 million (Dh3.67m) contract with Al Ain for a chance to play in England.

So, you see, it is not just about the money.

There is much more that keeps the best of the UAE's talents from achieving their dreams of playing in Europe.

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

Premier League, s10