x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Tributes paid to star footballer Saad

One of UAE football's best-loved players, who died suddenly two weeks ago, is remembered.

Al Nasr football team gather at Ajman stadium yesterday before the start of their first match since the death of their player Salem Saad.
Al Nasr football team gather at Ajman stadium yesterday before the start of their first match since the death of their player Salem Saad.

AJMAN // One of UAE football's best-loved players, who died suddenly two weeks ago, was remembered yesterday. Fans, players and club officials paid tribute to Salem Saad, 31, a former UAE international. A star player with the Pro League club Al Nasr, he collapsed and died from a suspected heart attack during a training session in Dubai on November 18.

Respects were paid at the team's game against Ittihad al Kalba in the President's Cup yesterday, which had been postponed from November 23 following Saad's death. The Nasr coach, Frank Pagelsdorf, said his players were now trying to focus on the rest of the season, despite the loss of Saad. "This is our first game without him and we will go out and do our best for the game and for him. I only hope our players can concentrate on the game," he said before Nasr took to the pitch in Ajman.

Sombre fans, many dressed in the team colours, also mourned one of their favourite players. "He brought with him so much experience to the team," said Ali Mullad, 47. "He will be missed by the team and, of course, the fans but I hope we can still be strong." The striker, who moved to Nasr in the summer from Al Shahab football club, won 39 international caps. He also played internationally at under-20, Olympic and A team level.

He made his debut for the senior national team in the 2006 World Cup qualifier against Thailand in February, 2004 and was in the UAE squad that won the Gulf Cup in 2007. His last international appearance was two years ago in a friendly against Togo. His brother Bakhit, 40, who also represented the country, was playing in the Beach Soccer World Cup against Uruguay on the day Saad collapsed. He was unaware of what had happened until after the game.

One Nasr fan, Abubakr Salih, 32, a civil engineer, said Saad was a unifying force in the team. "We'd bring him out towards the end [of matches]. "His experience kept the team together and strong on the pitch if the game was not going well. He will be missed towards the end of the game for this." Another supporter, Basil Ahmed, 24, from Lebanon, said he started going to Nasr games last year. "I am still learning about the players but I remember the first time I saw [Saad] play. He was so strong on the pitch."

Saad was from a prominent footballing family. His late father, Saad Mubarak, and his two brothers, Khamis and Bakhit, all represented the UAE. Saad had no known history of heart trouble. However, his father died of a heart attack while training, a few years after his playing career ended. Despite his move to Nasr, Saad was a "Slasher", as Shabab players are known among fans, through and through. He spent much of his youth at Al Maktoum Stadium where his father played and made his debut for the "Greens" in 1996.

Yasser al Zrooni, 26, who had travelled from Dubai to see Nasr win 3-0 yesterday, said fans and players alike should now start to put their sadness behind them. "Of course we will miss him but we must continue with the game and the season." @Email:eharnan@thenational.ae