x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Is the Pro league achieving its goal?

The first two weeks of the season have seen 59 goals, but not everyone is impressed by the high-scoring results.

Al Ain's Emerson is one of the foreign imports adding to this season's goal tally.
Al Ain's Emerson is one of the foreign imports adding to this season's goal tally.

The first two weeks of the Pro League season have certainly been entertaining: 59 goals were scored in the opening 12 matches, 26 over the opening weekend and 33 from the most recent games. Could this sudden deluge have anything to do with any of the foreign strikers, who accounted for 31 of those goals, or is it because of the weak defences? And from a spectator's point of view, has it done more harm or provided more excitement?

Fahad Ali, a former UAE captain now working as part of the national team's technical staff and a television pundit, was not impressed by the high-scoring results. "Most of the teams lacked a good organisational approach, but it doesn't surprise me with the clubs signing up strong foreign strikers and some of the coaches depending on them to score. "It is a shame and I don't enjoy this style of football. I don't think the crowd enjoys it either, because they are more educated on the game by watching European leagues where they are more organised."

Fahad pointed to a lack of quality defenders and goalkeepers, saying coaches were not doing enough to improve at the back. The forwards Jose Sand, Ricardo Oliviera, Emerson and Carlos Villanueva have arrived in the Emirates this summer, joining established names such as Rafael Sobis and Fernando Baiano. "The sudden influx of the high-profile forwards has created a lot of pressure on the defence and they don't seem to have come on terms with this situation well," said Fahad .

"Some of the coaches are concentrating on attack and, as a result, have overlooked the roles of the defenders. I can't understand a team scoring five goals can allow this kind of opponent to score two or more against them. "There are only a few clubs, Al Ain and Al Jazira, who are more organised at the back. Jazira have strengthened their defence with Marcio Rozario." The Al Wahda captain Haider Ali said the high scoring results will drop off when the defences get more used to playing against the new arrivals.

"The attacking options of every team have improved tremendously and as a result the defence is exposed," he said "We have Fernando Baiano in our line up and he scored 25 league goals last season. His presence gives the opposing defence enough headaches. He is a marked man but that allows the others an opportunity to score. "Of course people come to watch teams scoring goals and only goals can trigger celebrations. There is no fun in games that end 0-0."

Mohammed Omar, the captain of the UAE team that won the Gulf Cup on home soil in 2007 and now a player at Ajman, said the game in the country was going through a transitional period. The veteran striker, 35, said players with the ability to scores were more in demand than defenders because of their ability to win matches. "If you see, it is the strikers who are in demand. They have a high price tag because they are the players hired to win matches through their scoring abilities," he said.

Omar agreed there is an imbalance created by this, but said the changes were expected with the game turning professional only last season. "It is normal when there is a big change. The focus is naturally to win with the stakes so high. This season's Pro League winner will qualify for next year's Club World Cup, and that is a massive incentive," he added. "The players in the UAE must raise the bar and start working like professionals. The presence of foreign strikers will help the defence improve over a period of time but it doesn't help the forwards, who may have to play a secondary role. This is not new and as a result the national team has suffered. These are issues that have to be addressed by the Football Association."

apassela@thenational.ae