x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Footballers granted extra time

Bakhit Saad is no stranger to playing and training at football's top level. After captaining the UAE between 1997 and 2001, he knows what it takes to compete against the world's best.

Members of the UAE team have jobs that make it difficult for them to train together, a problem underlined by recent results.
Members of the UAE team have jobs that make it difficult for them to train together, a problem underlined by recent results.

Bakhit Saad is no stranger to playing and training at football's top level. After captaining the UAE between 1997 and 2001, he knows what it takes to compete against the world's best. Now he is preparing to use that knowledge on pitches that are neither level - nor green. In November, he will skipper the national team in the Beach Soccer World Cup, which this year is being held on the sands of Dubai. Saad, 38, and his teammates have been juggling their preparations for the week-long competition with their full-time jobs. Saad is a police officer in Dubai. Some of his teammates are in the army, others walk around in the heat all day as traffic wardens for the Roads and Transport Authority. Because of their work commitments, the team has been struggling, and players feared they would be exhausted even before the competition began. No one felt ready for a tournament, even though the team recently recorded a shock victory in Rio de Janeiro against Brazil. They feared disappointing their countrymen if they failed to perform well on Jumeirah Beach. Yesterday all that changed. The Dubai Sports Council (DSC) granted the 17-man squad three months' paid leave from their day jobs until the end of the tournament. The move came seven months after Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, issued a decree granting Emirati athletes paid leave to train if needed. It means that, today, the squad's preparations can begin in earnest. After months of lobbying the DSC for time off, Saad expressed his relief yesterday. "This is very good news for everybody," he said. "Today I have to work night shift and I won't be able to go to training. I missed training yesterday because I had to work." As a police officer, there is no normal working day for Saad. A night shift begins at 10pm and ends at 6am. He would often train in the morning and then meet the squad at 6pm to work out on the sand. "For me as a player and as a footballer this is very hard work. For the sport it is not good because your body is tired. I can be working two days at night, two days in the afternoon and two early in the morning, so I can't really train properly." The team's coach, Marcelo Mendes, who has been at the helm since 2007, said: "I'm very happy because this will make my work very easy now. I will tell the players at training tonight. I am very sure they will be happy. Last night, our first training session of Ramadan, only two players missed the session. "I think the management is starting to understand now that we only have three months before the World Cup and they need to train full-time. We have been working on this for a long time and it is finally going to happen." He added: "A full-time physical coach, Gilberto Costa, will arrive from Brazil on Sunday and he will work with the players more now to get them ready. We will sit down with him and devise a training schedule, but I think the players will start training twice a day." Before the start of the tournament, five players will be dropped as the squad is whittled down to its final 12. Only five players are on the sand at any one time. Beach football is still in its infancy in the UAE, having been launched here in 2006. Evidence that the team needs to focus less on work and more on football was provided this month, when the Emiratis played the world's three leading teams in a tournament in Portugal - they lost 10-3 to Spain, 7-3 to Brazil and 3-1 to Portugal. "Against Brazil we played very well in the first and second period and we were 2-2 and then in the third they scored five goals. And against Spain we had a very bad result," Saad said. "It just means that we are not ready and we are playing against players who do this professionally." Saad said he was afraid that other teams would think the Emiratis were "joking" ahead of November's tournament on their home beach. As a former player for Al Shabab, before the professional league was introduced, Saad was granted one year's leave from work to play for the club. "If you were a player in the league [before it turned professional] the players were given leave to play," he said. During Ramadan, the team faces further challenges, however, as training is shifted from early evening to late at night. Several players will miss training because they are committed to taking part in an army football tournament scheduled for the holy month. Saad said the army had given players leave from their duties to focus on that tournament, which clashes with the national team's training. "Really, our preparation for the World Cup is not going to be easy during Ramadan," he said. "We are doing this on our own and without support." During Ramadan the team will train at 10pm five days a week, after the players break their fast and finish attending tarawih prayers. "In Ramadan, they cannot lose everything we have worked for over these four months," said Mendes. "We have to keep them fit during Ramadan. "During this time they don't just lose fat but also a lot of muscle. We will give them extra supplementary food, try to rehydrate the players after training, give more water, more Gatorade because they go a long time without water, a long time without any liquid. "It's very important for them to stay hydrated. They will also need extra carbohydrates to make them ready after Ramadan." Once Ramadan is over, Mendes hopes to take his players to a two-week training camp in Spain. He is still waiting for approval. Recovery was crucial, he said, because after fasting the squad had just one month to get back into shape for the World Cup. And they will soon know who they play. The draw for the tournament, which takes place from November 16 to 22, will be made tomorrow at the Dubai World Trade Centre.

newsdesk@thenational.ae