x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Zidane offers words of advice for the Middle East

The former World Player of the Year believes the game and the success of Emirati players abroad will receive a boost if investment is maintained in hosting major events.

DUBAI // Zinedine Zidane believes progress in UAE football and the success of Emirati players abroad will receive a boost if investment is maintained in hosting major competitions and nurturing domestic talent. "Football in the Middle East and the UAE is developing, but slowly, said the three-time World Player of the Year. "By hosting major competitions like the Club World Cup and the Beach Soccer World Cup, the UAE is becoming a global football centre, and, in time, the local standard will improve because there is economic support to assist its growth."

With the Pro League in its second season as a full-time professional division, Zidane, speaking from the sidelines of yesterday's Dubai International Sports Conference, which has been organised by the Dubai Sports Council, added that players must embrace the responsibilities of professionalism if they are to leave their marks internationally. "The professional climate in the UAE is improving but Arabic players have to keeping working if they are to achieve international attention - success is only achieved through hard work," he said.

Born to Algerian parents in Marseille, Zidane represented the country of his birth country internationally with distinction, playing 108 times. The former Juventus and Real Madrid midfielder, who won the Champions League in 2002, led Les Blues to the 1998 World Cup final, scoring two goals to defeat Brazil in Paris as the hosts won the tournament for the first time. Two years later, a Zidane-inspired France cemented their reputation as the best turn-of-the-millenium era team by winning the European Championship. But despite his glittering French connections, Zidane admitted he will be cheering for Algeria when the World Cup kicks-off in June.

"I'm very happy that Algeria have qualified for South Africa," he said. "The African Cup of Nations will be a good test for them. I will be following their World Cup journey." @Email:emegson@thenational.ae