x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Uneven but right steps, says UAE League official

The chief executive says technical standards are improving and hopes that fans will not punish the Pro League for its erratic fixture list which resumes after a long break of 42 days.

Al Jazira fans in a crowd of 28,164 - so far this season attendances are up 35 per cent.
Al Jazira fans in a crowd of 28,164 - so far this season attendances are up 35 per cent.

ABU DHABI // The chief executive of domestic football's top flight hopes that fans will not punish the Pro League for its erratic fixture list when the second half of the season begins tonight.

Spectators have had to wait a frustrating 42 days that straddled the month of January, which nearly mirrored the exasperating 46-day gap that bracketed November, for the league to restart.

The league programme resumes tonight with matches between Dubai and Al Ain and Al Nasr versus Al Jazira. Carlo Nohra, the league's CEO, hope fans empathise with the difficulties they have faced and turn out in force.

"It has certainly not helped, by any means," he said of the season's stop-start dynamic. It's not helpful for any league, not only ours, to have a break mid-season.

"But such is the scheduling. We knew 2010/11 was going to be mired by such problems, but there was nothing we could do regarding the scheduling of the Asian Cup or the Club World Cup, or even the Gulf Cup.

"We just need to take it on the chin and get on with it and build on the momentum we generated in the first half of the season."

Nohra believes the level of football on display over the first half of the season represented a high for the domestic league.

"The technical standard has improved and ultimately that is what we are in the business of - delivering entertainment on the pitch through football, and I have seen a difference in the quality on the pitch. It still is not setting the world alight, but it is a step in the right direction."

After the last round of games, on December 23, Jazira were halfway home to their first league title, leading Baniyas by five points and Al Ahli and Al Wasl by 12 each.

Jazira are unbeaten this season, but Abel Braga, their manager, is far from declaring victory.

"The second round is always harder than the first round," he said. "Al Jazira have always started strongly but faltered towards the end. It is not going to be the same this time. We have learnt that in the past two years and we are not ready to let that happen again."

Jazira have finished second for the past three seasons; a year ago, Al Wahda caught and passed them in the second half. This time the season ends on June 9.

Nohra also has been pleased by progress this season in attendances, up more than 35 per cent from 2009/10 to 3,576 per game this season, and the league's outreach to expatriate fans.

"There is no doubt the challenge ahead is quite big and we all have to pull together, and by 'all' I mean the league, its member clubs, sponsors, media, clubs sponsors, players, coaches, everybody has to be pulling in the same direction and that is really the remit of the [league] to get everyone pulling in the same direction.

"I think we've already seen improvement in bridging the gap and communicating the fact that there is football in the UAE to the expat community."

He also likes developments on the sponsorship front and a trend towards sustainable fiscal models at the clubs. "Things are heading in the right direction but it is a major task," he said. "I see it as a 30-year project."

His vision for the league is ambitious. "Ultimately, the goal for us, as far as 10 years' time, is to move up the ladder for the Asian Football Confederation rankings," Nohra said. "I'd like to see us exporting players.

"I'd like to see a UAE side winning the AFC Champions League. I would like to see us introduce more stringent financial regulations for clubs to stand up on their own feet commercially.

"I'd like to see them do that without needing financial backing from their owners, and for us to work much closer with the educations system and introduce a feeder system into the league for elite players."

 

sports@thenational.ae

Additional reporting by Amith Passela