There’s no doubting the country’s passion when it comes to football. The elation after last year’s Gulf Cup final triumph over Oman was proof enough; not a car was safe from the revelry. And if the UAE’s positive start continues throughout their next four World Cup 2010 qualifying games in June, the prospect of reaching the finals – their first in 20 years – will edge closer to reality. But for a country positioned 97th in the FIFA world rankings, with the likes of Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar above them, there’s still plenty to aim for.
The Pro League is an encouraging milestone in the history of the UAE game and reflects the nation’s determination to become a leading sporting nation. Eight teams – Al Ahli, Al Ain, Al Jazira, Al Nasr, Al Shabab, Al Sharjah, Al Wahda and Al Wasl – have already been confirmed for the 12-team league, which will be fully established on June 1 when the remaining four spots are decided between nine other teams from divisions one and two.
With aspiring players in the amateur league and academies looking up to the Gerrards, Ronaldinhos and Ronaldos of the world, the Pro League has injected new impetus into striving to be the best by providing a potential platform to break into the professional game.
Dean O’Grady from Dubai Amateur League hopes the talent at grass-roots level will now gain recognition and prominence in the UAE game: ‘Standards here are very good. There needs to be a process for development, as there is in most European countries. But for that to work here in the UAE, there needs to be cash given at grass roots level, to help leagues like the Dubai Amateur League to develop, so we can provide the necessary facilities and coaching at that can help in fulfilling this potential.’
Stepping into the boots of the aforementioned football superstars have been dreams for most up to now, with the nation lacking a genuine global footballing icon to set the ambition. But Terry Kidd, head coach of Esports Dubai Football Academy believes the Pro League will give his students added incentive, knowing the professional game isn’t completely out of reach: ‘It will certainly be encouragement for our academy students, as they feel at the moment the options are fairly limited. However with the top clubs now opening the door to non-locals this will certainly add more desire and belief.’
But are club scouts aware of the talent at academy and amateur level and will they go out and look for these players? ‘At the moment, no,’ O’Grady says. ‘I am sure this will change over time. There needs to be a partnership between the Dubai Amateur League and the Pro League so that we can help players that are able to play at Pro level.’ Kidd believes scouts will be attracted more than ever now, and not necessarily just from the UAE Pro League: ‘Esports has many contacts at pro clubs in the UK and do not hesitate to send any stand-out players that we may have. But scouts from other countries will be attracted as well, as the overall style is different to Europe especially. It will be interesting to see who the first to leave the Emirates will be.’
With a majority expat community in Dubai, most are used to the English Premiership, Serie A in Italy or the Spanish Primera Liga, for example. The Etisalat League is the equivalent of perhaps two or three divisions lower than these elite, potentially leaving the risk of promising players only pushing themselves to succeed in the UAE Pro League rather than striving to be the best in countries that have higher standards of football. ‘Many people come to the UAE thinking it is easy for them to get a game of football here, pro and amateur,’ O’Grady says. ‘They are generally somewhat surprised to find the standards here much higher than expected. There are many young players in the Dubai Amateur League that aspire to play pro football. Anything that can give people hope and an ultimate goal is sometimes the motivation needed to push that little bit harder.’
Kidd agrees: ‘I don’t think (the academy students) will stop working as hard, as they have experienced coaches drilling into them how important it is to apply themselves both physically and mentally. The UAE is a fantastic stepping stone for any youth who has the desire to become tomorrow’s star. It will open many doors’.
To get involved with Dubai Amateur League, call 050 396 5135 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Summer 7s are due to kick-off soon. The highly respected Esports Dubai Football Academy boasts professional coaches and ex-pro players among its ranks and is taking three teams to the International Super Cup competition in Wales, UK, this summer. With plenty of coaching sessions and junior leagues in place, call the academy on 050 286 1041, email email@example.com or visit www.esportsdubai.com.