x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pro league players and coaches welcome proposal of shortening qualification to play for UAE

Proposal to reduce residency requirements to three years for foreign players goes before Fifa in Zurich today.

Fernando Baiano, the Brazilian, who has played in the UAE since 2008 for Al Jazira and his present club Al Wahda, would soon be eligible to play for the UAE under the new residency proposals.
Fernando Baiano, the Brazilian, who has played in the UAE since 2008 for Al Jazira and his present club Al Wahda, would soon be eligible to play for the UAE under the new residency proposals.

ABU DHABI // Players and coaches in the Pro League have welcomed the Football Association's proposal to reduce residency requirements for foreigners to become eligible to play with the UAE national team.

Fifa's 208 member associations are expected to vote on the proposal from the FA to reduce the residency requirements from five years to three at their meeting today in Zurich.

"If the FA's idea is to grant citizenship for those foreigners eligible to play for the national team, it would be a very good move, and they certainly would benefit," said Josef Hickersberger, the Al Wahda coach.

"I personally feel it is a good idea because it provides more opportunities for the better players and creates stronger competitions. It would also narrow the gap between those more established nations and the smaller countries like the UAE."

The Austrian, who has both represented and coached his native Austria in the World Cup, also felt it a great incentive for those players who do not make the cut in their own national teams.

"There are some very good foreign players in the Pro League and I am sure they would also welcome this idea because they get another opportunity to play for a national team," he said.

"And for sure the UAE will have a wider choice of players to select from. There is no doubt it will strengthen the national team and it will also pave the way for the UAE clubs to think on long-term investments on the players."

If the amendment passes, the UAE would be able to field a national team that includes players age 18 or over who have lived in the UAE for three years and have not played internationally for their home country.

Recently, the national teams have struggled to score goals; the UAE failed to score in three matches at the Asian Cup in January.

The preponderance of foreigners in the Pro League play in attacking positions, perhaps making for a good fit in the national side.

Dr Saleem bin Suroor al Shamsi, the head of the UAE's players status and transfer committee, was positive of today's outcome in Zurich.

"We believe that five years is too long to wait for citizenship, and I know there were some countries who wanted the time to be two years, but three is about right," he said.

"I think this will go through because Africa and Asia are big supporters, and they are not alone. It is going to help smaller countries such as us to improve the national team because we would have a bigger pool to choose from."

Other countries have used foreign-born players for their national teams. Qatar has five Brazilian-born players in their squad, in part because its professional league has few restrictions on foreign signings and players tend to stay for five years or more.

Among current foreign-born players operating in the Pro League who could benefit if the law is passed are the Brazilians Pinga, of Al Ahli, Al Jazira striker Bare, Fernando Baiano, the Al Wahda frontman and Alexandre Oliveira, Al Wasl's Brazilian forward.

"This proposal will be fantastic for players like me who have no hopes in playing for the national team in their own country," said Oliveira, who has spent more than six years in the UAE.

"I think I am still playing at a good level and if given the opportunity to play for the UAE, I would be really thrilled.

"I have had a great six years and would give my best for them, should I get the opportunity."

Abdulraheem Jumaa, the Wahda midfielder and former UAE captain, sees no harm in including foreigners in the national team.

"Obviously, they will add more strength to the squad and also make the local players work harder for their places in the national team," he said. "If the football management in the country looks it as a positive move, so be it."