x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

South American football stars making it good in the UAE

South America is a reservoir of football talent, and even if Copa America was a flop, the UAE is certainly not complaining.

Diego Maradona leads the cast of many South American players or coaches plying their trade in the UAE.
Diego Maradona leads the cast of many South American players or coaches plying their trade in the UAE.

The Copa America was built up as a football spectacular to rival the European Championships, or even better it, by bringing together some of the game's silkiest talents.

Which other event, except the World Cup, could boast of the class of Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez, Neymar and Ganso, Sergio Aguero and Angel di Maria, Alexandre Pato and Robinho, Alexis Sanchez and Javier Pastore?

Yet, none of these superstars or their feted sides - hosts Argentina, Brazil and Chile - made it beyond the quarter-final stage. Instead, Paraguay were in the final without winning a game before Uruguay thumped them for the title.

The more generous reviews of the tournament described it as a disappointment. Others called it the most boring football tournament ever, or simply a disaster.

But would those uncomplimentary assessments have any effect on the impressive CVs of the South American football stars? Never.

South America is an almost inexhaustible reservoir of football talent and you only have to look around the professional clubs in UAE to understand the impact of their exports.

Jose Sand could get only two caps for Argentina, but was a stunning success for Al Ain, scoring 31 goals in 30 appearances, including a chart-topping 24 in the 2009/10 league season.

Before coming to the UAE, Sand was the top scorer in the 2008 Apertura and 2009 Clausura, and he was the first player to top the scoring charts in two consecutive tournaments since Diego Maradona in 1980.

Maradona is, of course, in the country as well, grabbing attention for Al Wasl around the globe.

Matias Delgado, another Argentine, played a crucial role in Al Jazira's league conquest last season. Delgado and Sand are a little bit unusual as footballers from Argentina's traditional rivals, Brazil, have generally ruled the roost here.

Fernando Baiano, Rafael Sobis and Ricardo Oliveira - all internationals - have been the headline acts of the Brazilian contingent in recent years and the arrival of their countryman Grafite - a top scorer in Germany's Bundesliga - at Al Ahli will only strengthen their reputations.

Grafite is not the only Brazilian at Ahli, he will have the talented Jakson Avelino Coelho alongside him.

Al Shabab, Sharjah and Jazira have two Brazilians each in their ranks, while all three of Al Wahda's non-Asian foreigners are from the South American country.

For the coming season, 13 of the 33 non-Asian foreign professionals signed by the clubs up to now are Brazilians and this domination has irked many agents from other regions.

"I have been managing footballers for the past seven years but mostly to Europe," wrote an agent from Ghana in an email. "I now want to try the Arab connection, but it seems difficult since the cultures are different and the Arab teams seem to like the Brazilians more than anybody else.

"But not all the Brazilians are good, you know."

Of course not all of them are good, but they are good enough for the league here and show a lot more eagerness and enthusiasm than the others. Ciel at Al Shabab would be a prime example of that.

Growing up on a farm and forbidden from playing football by his father, Ciel had arrived at Shabab with a reputation of having attitude problems. The 29 year old, however, turned his and Shabab's fortunes around with some bustling performances.

You could put Ciel's teammate Julio Cesar and Marcelinho of Sharjah in the same category as well - both tireless performers.

The clubs here, however, have started looking elsewhere in South America as well.

There will be nine non-Brazilians from the continent in action when the new season kicks off - three Chileans, three Argentines, two from Uruguay and an Ecuadorean.

There are 10 African players, with Senegal, Morocco and Guinea figuring prominentlybut mostly at the smaller clubs. The best of African talents are snapped up by European clubs, so their lower numbers is understandable.

From Europe there is only one player up to now - the Romanian Mirel Radoi at Al Ain. Last season, there were a couple more: Francisco Yeste and Fabio Cannavaro. The first has moved to Olympiacos from Wasl while Cannavaro has retired from football and is now an ambassador for Ahli.

The reluctance of Europeans to come here is understandable. The weather is a huge obstacle and the culture a challenge. There is no dearth of opportunities in their own countries either.

For the Brazilians, the weather does not seem to be very different and they are adept at making themselves comfortable in any environment or culture.

That is the reason more than 2,000 of them are playing professionally across the globe.

arizvi@thenational.ae


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