x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

No looking back in anger for veteran Subait Khater

The Al Jazira midfielder talks to Omar Al Raisi about a 15-year career, his ambition to get back in the frame for Mahdi Ali's UAE national team and who he thinks is the best player in the Emirates.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sept 17 2012, Super Cup, Jazira v Al Ain- Al Jazira's #24 Subait Khater on the pitch during action in the Super Cup at Al Wasl stadium. Mike Young / The National
Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sept 17 2012, Super Cup, Jazira v Al Ain- Al Jazira's #24 Subait Khater on the pitch during action in the Super Cup at Al Wasl stadium. Mike Young / The National

Subait Khater has probably never been regarded by the majority of domestic fans as one of the greats of Emirati football. Durable, certainly. Dependable, absolutely. A cool head in times of crisis, no question.

If, then, he falls somewhere into "not quite" status among UAE greats such as Adnan Al Talyani, what do we make of a footballing CV that compares favourably to any assembled by an Emirati?

A midfield leader on a Gulf Cup champion team; a key member of an Asian Champions League-winning squad and in the side that claimed six league championships and six President's Cups, as well as the odd UAE Super Cup and Etisalat Cup.

If there is a trophy to be won by a domestic footballer, Khater has won it, giving rise to the question of when he stops being in the right place at the right time and when he must be accorded credit as a catalyst of success.

His 15 seasons at the top of UAE football give him a fine vantage point on wider trends in the game.

Such as, who is great and who is not, or isn't yet.

He is not ready to bestow greatness on Omar Abdulrahman, the young Al Ain midfielder who trained with Manchester City, a man some believe to be the most gifted Emirati footballer yet.

Khater's gallery of greats is very selective, and includes Al Talyani, Ismail Matar and Muhsin Musabah.

"To be among the greatest in the UAE, a player has to prove himself in the national team and win a major trophy or play in the World Cup," he said. "That's why Adnan Al Talyani and Ismail Matar are loved by the fans, they have won major trophies."

Khater, 32, also is unprepared to designate Abdulrahman as the current best player in the country.

He said Rashid Essa of Al Wasl and Ali Mabkhout, his Al Jazira teammate, are superior players to the little Al Ain playmaker, but he concedes the generation of players who competed in the London Olympics over the summer have several strong performers.

"I think Omar Abdulrahman, Amer Abdulrahman, Ali Mabkhout, Ahmed Khalil, Rashid Essa are very good crop of young players who have massive potential," he said.

"But it seems the media and fans have put them under a lot of pressure and are constantly under the spotlight.

"With the expectations sky high, it puts anxiety in the players before every game as they know the media and fans are watching their every move and that is not good for any player, as they will feel they need to perform at their best in every game."

He also considered Ali Kasheif, the Olympic team keeper, to be the country's best and a likely national team stopper for years to come.

Khater says he has represented the UAE 120 times at senior level, which would leave him second only to Al Talyani, who earned 164 caps two decades ago, on the country's all-time list.

But, as has been the case throughout his career, Khater wants more. He focuses on the future not the past, he says, and his goal is to put on the white shirt again and play for Mahdi Ali.

"I want to be back in the national team, but at the moment there are better young players that Mahdi Ali introduced to the squad from the Olympic team," he said.

"I am at the end of my career. I will be 33 in a few months. But I feel I can contribute something to the team with my experience.

"I know I am not going to be involved by the time of the AFC Cup 2015 . So I understand if Mahdi Ali overlooks me for the national team. I respect his decisions, as we all know he has been doing a great job."

Khater joined Al Ain in 1997 at the age of 17, and he has seen great changes in the game during his career.

He recalls no proper structure for youth players existed when he was young, football was not a real profession and Emirati families did not see it as a future for their children. But now the attitude of the families has changed, he says, and they push their kids to go to football training.

"I just loved playing football and I forced my parents to let me play in a football academy," he said.

"I started my career as a youth player for Al Wahda and then moved to Al Ain and I'm proud to have moved up the ranks to the first team."

He now plays in a league with 14 teams, and he has opinions on that, as well as the Pro League's struggle to attract fans to matches.

"It was a good decision . to increase the league to 14 teams," he said. "It has given more young Emirati players a chance to play in the top division and it makes it more interesting for the spectator to enjoy a league with more teams."

He cited Jazira's recent 2-2 draw with Al Ain as an example of high-level football on offer domestically.

"From that game we all saw the quality of the Pro League and our team spirit," he said. "The league has become much more intense and that's what the fans want."

He believes poor attendance is more about demographics than a poor product.

"We have a low population in UAE" of about 1 million citizens. "If you see the clubs in Saudi, they have much more attendance than us but it doesn't mean their league's standard is better than ours.

"When we play them in the AFC Champions League, sometimes we lose, sometimes win and you can see our quality is more or less the same but they have more fans because of their high population, and the same for Egypt and other Arab countries."

Jazira got off to a slow start in the league, but Khater rejects speculation that Paulo Bonamigo, the Brazilian coach, is on the verge of being dismissed.

"We are all behind him, its just speculation, but I believe there has been no such word or discussion from our board," he said.

His career certainly has been eventful, from his decade with Al Ain and then over to Jazira in 2008. Any regrets?

"No, I have no regrets, looking back at my career. I feel I have taken right decisions at that time considering the situation I was in by changing from Al Ain to Al Jazira, and I am proud to have represented UAE national team over the years.

"If I get a chance to rewind life back, I would have taken the same decisions and I am satisfied with what I have achieved in my career."

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE