x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Abdullah Saif al Mamri stepping out of the shadows

Abdullah Saif al Mamri, Al Ain's libero, is poised to recover from an ankle injury in time for the Arab Volleyball Championships next month.

There is a man in New York whose sole profession on this earth is to study shadows. He is employed by developers, activists, city agencies, basically anybody in need of an urban planning expert.

Were he to ever visit the sleepy municipality of Al Ain in southern Abu Dhabi, near to the Oman border, he would probably acknowledge the layout of the city's sports club and immediately determine an unmistakable hierarchy.

As the sun rises, bringing with it a new day, the Al Ain Sports and Cultural Club's Indoor Hall, much like the volleyball team the venue plays host to, sits firmly in the darkness; eclipsed by the sprawling Sheikh Khalifa International Stadium and the football team that calls it home.

Al Ain Football Club are one of the most prominent clubs in the region and the most successful in the UAE, but to suggest football comes first and everything else is merely an afterthought, would be unfair to the city's volleyball team.

Abdullah Saif al Mamri is one of 15 professional players registered to the club's first team.

Al Ain have eight different age categories, but only the first team receive salaries for their efforts on the court.

The 28-year-old is the club's most precocious talent having moved to the Garden City two seasons ago from the Abu Dhabi-based club Baniyas.

While his transfer fee remains undisclosed and his salary is confidential, he admits the remuneration he receives is more than most.

"In the UAE, football is the most popular sport and players are paid between Dh100,000 and Dh150,000 each month," al Mamri said.

"Volleyball is the second most popular sport, but most professional players don't get anywhere near as much.

"Most clubs pay around Dh4,000 or Dh5,000, but Al Ain is better. They are the only club that offers a good salary that allows players to have a comfortable life".

The libero is recovering from an ankle injury, which is expected to keep him off the court for up to six weeks.

But it is testament to the investment Al Ain SCC are willing to make that the Abu Dhabi-born player is being treated for up to six hours per day, twice daily.

Each morning he is met by Yasser Farouk, an Egyptian physiotherapist, who proceeds to ensure the 6ft 3ins defensive specialist maintains his general fitness through swimming and basic work in the gym.

The pair then visit the treatment room, where al Mamri is propped up in an Enraf Nonius physiotherapist's chair.

His swollen ankle is positioned in the centre of a magnetic ring before Farouk adorns protective eyewear and carries out laser biostimulation on his patient.

"This treatment can quicken the recovery period substantially," Farouk said, prodding the ankle with a ray of red light. Al Mamri smiled: he just wants to play as soon as possible.

"Playing volleyball professionally has always been my dream," he said.

"When I was growing up, I would watch Baniyas play in Abu Dhabi as well as Al Ain on the TV. Many of Al Ain's players inspired me, especially Mohammed Saif al Naimi and Arif Rajab."

Al Naimi recently rejoined Al Ain from Al Nasr club, where he had enjoyed a successful decade, won 18 trophies and helped Nasr be crowned the fourth best team in Asia.

"At school, I always wished I could reach his standard, and now I get to play alongside him - it's a special feeling," Al Mamri said.

The Arab Clubs Volleyball Championships take place in Saudi Arabia from February 17 to March 2 with Al Ain representing the Emirates.

It is the first time Al Ain have competed in the annual tournament - now in its 29th year - but both al Mamri and al Naimi are confident ahead of their opening match.

"We can compete because we have good management and a great coach," al Naimi said. "Rostalav Shuked knows everything there is to know about this club and he uses that knowledge to make us better."

Al Mamri added: "We have a good mixture of youth and experience and, although every Arab club competing wants to win, we will go there with confidence and motivation to perform on our debut in the competition.

"Is victory realistic? God willing. We will try."

Al Ain were crowned winter champions after enjoying a run of eight games undefeated in the domestic league.

If they can continue that good form in Riyadh and return with the trophy come March 2, they could finally start to step out of the shadows and become architects of a new dawn for volleyball in the UAE, which is something al Mamri and his teammates want.

"We get spectators to games here," said al Mamri of the 1,500-seater Indoor Hall.

"But obviously not on the same level as the football team. We hope that our success this season can help change that.

"We want to be recognised on an international level."