x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Pro League joins the top table

Country given at least three ACL places as UAE football is rewarded by Asia's ruling body just a few months after being relaunched.

Al Ain's Jorge Valdivia. right, is one of the reasons why the UAE Pro League has made great strides in such a short period of time.
Al Ain's Jorge Valdivia. right, is one of the reasons why the UAE Pro League has made great strides in such a short period of time.

The Asian Football Confederation's decision to give the UAE three direct entries into the 2009 AFC Champions League is a recognition of the success made by the new professional league, according to Romy Gai, chief executive of the UAE Football League. Ten member nations of the AFC have been given direct entry into next year's revamped AFC Champions League, which will mark the start of the era of professionalism in Asian football. The selection was based on a points system that took into account organisation, technical standards, attendances, governance, marketing, business acumen, media coverage, stadium size and quality and the commercial viability of clubs.

Five countries - Japan, South Korea, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia - scored high marks in all categories and have been allowed to field four teams each in the 32-team 2009 ACL. The UAE scored enough marks to earn three direct entries and a place in the play-offs. The country scored more points than Australia, Uzbekistan and Qatar, who will have two direct entries each. "It is a fantastic achievement for us," said Gai, who was the commercial director at Italian giants Juventus before taking up the challenge of turning football in the UAE into a professional venture.

"We are new league, just a few months old, and this decision is a recognition of the progress we have made over such a short time. We have moved together as a team, the league and the clubs, to achieve this success." Indonesia will have one direct entry and a slot in the play-offs, where one club each from India, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam will participate. The clubs taking part in the ACL play-offs should be commercial entities according to the AFC Champions League criteria. If they do not meet approval, the clubs will be invited to play in the second-tier AFC Cup.

"This is not a final decision," added Gai. "The clubs have a Dec 15 deadline to turn into commercial entities, so things can change in the next few days." Clubs like Al Nasr and Al Ahli have already announced the formation of new commercial entities and Gai is happy with the progress made in the UFL, which started on Sept 19. "Personally I am very satisfied with what we have achieved so far," he said. "There was a long and tough path ahead of us when we started, but we have moved quickly to achieve good results. This has been possible only because of the complete support of the country and comprehension of the clubs. "So I am very happy, but this will not be an excuse to stop now. We have to turn the page and worker even harder to keep improving and stabilise. We need to keep setting the standards in Asia." Gai also has little doubt about the success UAE clubs will enjoy on the Asian stage, with their abundance of local talent and foreign stars. "I have no doubt that our clubs will do well the new ACL," he said. "The quality of football is growing with the arrival of stars like Jorge Valdivia and Rafael Sobis. "The clubs already had a very good base of local players and the arrival of these foreign stars has only added to their strengths. "The UAE FA have been doing a fantastic job and the success of the under 16 and under 19 is a testimony to that. "The country has a very good youth system, so things will only get better from here." arizvi@thenational.ae