x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Go west young men

Clubs should allow their proteges to play abroad if they are to improve themselves, according to leading Emirati football officials.

Football officials believe the U20 players can fulfill their potential if allowed  to join clubs outside the country.
Football officials believe the U20 players can fulfill their potential if allowed to join clubs outside the country.

The country's best young footballers should join leading clubs in Europe and around the world if they are to improve themselves - and the national team - according to leading Emirati officials. Only three Emiratis - Ismail Matar, Fahed Masoud and Ali al Kamali - have played professionally outside the country. Al Kamali played in Brazil with Atletico Paranaense, while Masoud and Matar had short spells in the Qatar league. The UAE Football Association president Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi said they could not interfere in whether the best talent should go abroad, but he urged clubs to allow young players to try their luck outside the country.

"It's up to the clubs. But letting the good talents go out to learn by themselves and get the right exposure, in Europe or anywhere else in the world, is a must," he said. The full national team are ranked 111th in the Fifa world rankings and failed to qualify for next summer's World Cup finals. By contrast, the UAE are the Asian Under 19 champions, reached the quarter-finals of the U20 World Cup in Nigeria and qualified for the U17 World Cup. That success has attracted interest in young Emirati players, with the U20 captain Hamdan al Kamali and goalkeeper Yousif Abdelrahman being closely monitored by top-flight clubs in Greece. Mohammed al Mahmood, the general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, believes proper arrangements with European teams is the way forward.

"We have talented players who can play in Europe," he said. "You can see that in the national Under 20 team. By having such partnerships [the UAE already has links with Inter Milan, Valencia and Manchester City] the long-term results will be our young players playing in Europe. "Five years ago there were almost no transfers. Today we have more transfers among the teams in the UAE. It gives teams a chance to see the benefits of players moving. Soon players will have no borders and have the chance to move to play in other leagues. In three to five years we will see [Emirati] players playing in European leagues." Matar, the country's most recognisable footballer, agrees young players should leave but said that they should first learn how to live abroad by playing for teams in other Gulf countries.

Matar played two games on loan for the Qatar side Al Sadd last season. He said he had the chance to leave the Emirates earlier in his career but was reluctant to move to an unfamiliar environment. "I couldn't make up my mind, because I was not familiar with the professional game and couldn't decide on my own future," he said. "I dreaded to live a lonely life outside home." He said another option would be to start from the grassroots at the academies abroad. "I am sure such plans and strategies are in the pipeline," he said. "The administrators of today's game are working on these lines to send the youth for advanced training in some of the more established academies in Europe. I think this is an option." However, Matar added that staying within the region would be better suited to young Emirati players. He said: "How many are ready to change their lifestyles?

"I feel the Emirati players are still not ready to lead a professional lifestyle abroad. If there are to be any it should come from the next generation of players who can spend enough times in the academies abroad. "I would like to play again in Qatar or any other Gulf country on a short loan period given the opportunity. It suits me better because I won't be far away from home and more importantly it has the similar lifestyle." Matar was one of the stars of the Under 20 World Cup when it was hosted by the UAE in 2003 and then had the chance to try his luck in Europe. However, that was at a time when clubs in the UAE had greater control on players and could keep them for as long as they wanted. Since the introduction of the Pro League at the start of last season players can now opt to play abroad when their contracts have expired.

Al Rumaithi said the national body try to improve the sport through better organisation and investment but could not interfere in whether the best talent should go abroad. "I read about some players who showed interest in leaving and playing outside. We have some talents who do well and represent the UAE in a great manner," he said. "But at the end of the day, this goes back to the clubs and their policies and strategies - are they willing to let these players go? Do they want to concentrate on the local league? "I hope this way of thinking changes in time and I'm sure within a few years we will see players from this country playing outside. We need to reshape our thinking about football if we want to go higher up in Asia and the world. "We have just played in two World Cups, U20 and U17s, and for a small country that is not easy. I think what we will see happening at the clubs is the way of thinking is beginning to change. The players, I think, will start to get the chance to go." sports@thenational.ae