x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Everything you need on the Pro League is a click away

In the summer of 2008, the top flight football league in the country was deemed to have become fully professional. Hence, the new name: Pro League. But one very basic flaw detracted significantly from that designation: the absence of a league website.

In the summer of 2008, the top-flight football league in this country was deemed to have become fully professional. Hence, the new name: Pro League. But one very basic flaw detracted significantly from that designation: the absence of a league website.

Hard to imagine, in 2011, that a serious business entity, never mind an entire professional football league spending tens of millions of dirhams on players and coaches, could open for business without the most basic of advertising and marketing tools.

But that was the case when Carlo Nohra took over as the chief executive of the UAE Football League (UFL) halfway through the 2009/10 season.

That failing was rectified, however, when the league launched www.ufl.ae in August. A site at first basic and thin has become increasingly sophisticated and now is nearly an indispensable tool for fans, media and curious outsiders.

The latest improvement, instituted last week, is particularly valuable for connoisseurs of the game - match reports posted after every game.

"The website was one of our core operational and marketing objectives before the start of this current season," Nohra said yesterday.

"We recognised that one of the main criticisms of the league was a lack of available information, so for us, the website was crucial in helping to rectify this."

The target was simple: a dual-language site, in Arabic and English, to serve as a central source of basic information.

The site, created by a Dubai firm but now overseen by the league, at first provided not much more than up-to-date tables, kick-off times and dates for all the competitions overseen by the UFL - the Pro League, the Etisalat Cup, the Super Cup and the Challenge League.

Enhancements have come along steadily: biographical information, updated squad lists, complete scores, brief summaries of each match, photos from every match and a gallery of brief video clips.

And now, the match reports (on the "fixtures and results" tab) represent the greatest leap forward yet for fans who were not able to see a match or never did quite figure out who wore the No 80 shirt for Al Wahda.

Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, the league does not depend on the clubs to produce match reports. "The match statistics are recorded by the UFL match official who then verifies this with the official referee's report," Nohra said.

The programming for this "is incredibly complex", Nohra said, but the reward is well worth it to those who want to download the report and see exactly who was in the line-up for each side and being able to match a number to a name; which players came on as substitutes, were booked, or who scored, plus finding out who the match officials were.

League officials are the first to concede the site is not a finished product. Sorting out and standardising something as basic as how a player spells his name and which he would prefer to be known by remains to be done. News remains fragmentary and sometimes contains spelling errors.

Perhaps the most noticeable lack is prompt information on personnel moves at the clubs - players acquired or released, coaches sacked or hired. In this, the league is hamstrung by the clubs, who are not always good about telling the league which players they have acquired.

"Sometimes," said one official, "we are the last to know."

The league has several ambitious goals: to make the league financially self-sustaining, to nearly double average home attendances and to attract women and expatriates to their games.

But the big plans can wait. A website could not. The credibility of the organisation was at stake as long as it did not exist.

Now we have ufl.ae, and Nohra and his staff deserve a "well done" for their efforts.