x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

UAE Pro League to expand to 14 teams

Relegated Sharjah and Emirates will take part in a play-off with Al Dhafra and Al Shaab to see which two will join the top-flight expansion. Audio interview

Modibo Diarra, the Emirates striker, may well get the chance to ply his trade in the top flight again next season after the FA passed a resolution to increase the number of teams in the Pro League from 12 to 14. Ramesh / Al Ittihad
Modibo Diarra, the Emirates striker, may well get the chance to ply his trade in the top flight again next season after the FA passed a resolution to increase the number of teams in the Pro League from 12 to 14. Ramesh / Al Ittihad

Sharjah and Emirates will have to take part in a play-off with Al Shaab and Al Dhafra to secure their Pro League survival.

The Football Association last night passed a resolution to increase the number of teams in the top flight from 12 to 14.

The competition committee will now devise a format for the four teams - the two relegated clubs and the two that finished third and fourth in the first division - to play in a qualifying event from which two teams will move to the top-flight league.

"The format and the dates of this play-off will be drawn up by the competition committee and announced shortly," Yousuf Al Serkal, the FA president, said after last night's executive committee meeting at their headquarters in Dubai. "A consensus was reached and I believe it provides all four clubs a fair chance to qualify for the Pro League next season. This is a transitional period, hence the play-off is a one-off competition."

Al Serkal felt the positives of increasing the number of teams to 14 far outweighed the negatives.

"More teams and more games will provide more playing opportunities, particularly to the young players. There are a lot of age group players who don't get an early exposure in the country's top league," he said.

"There was a need to play more games and to provide the players a longer season, and by increasing the number of teams to 14 we have achieved that objective to benefit the country's football."

Al Serkal said the clubs would also benefit financially from television broadcasts but did not elaborate.

Faleh Faisal, the chief executive of Dhafra, welcomed the idea, saying it provided all four teams an equal opportunity to return to the top flight.

"Obviously we are happy that we get another opportunity to return to the Pro League," he said.

"We respect whatever decision the FA has taken and would be happy to play on any format in the play-off that would be decided by the competitions committee. I think all four clubs in the play-off will be happy of this decision."

The FA have also scrapped the two-tier system in Division One, the competition below the Pro League.

Division One, which consisted of 16 teams divided into two groups of eight, will now be made up of 14 teams in one league, the same as the Pro League.

An increase in the number of teams in the top flight is one of the criteria laid down by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for participation in the Asian Champions League. The AFC have recommended a minimum requirement of 33 league games per team in the top division.

The other recommendations are the duration of the entire season, including the league, cup and pre-tournament matches to 10 months, and the duration of the top division to eight months.

Shaab were relegated in the first season the league became professional in 2008/09 and have not been able to return to the top flight. Dhafra have been something of a yo-yo club and have not played in the Pro League after being relegated in 2010/11.

Sharjah and Emirates, relegated this season, now get another opportunity to remain in the top flight.

apassela@thenational.ae

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