Midway through the UAE pro league with twelve rounds of games left, set up is an entertaining fight to the finish between three teams. And unfortunately, Al Wasl, on which the hype was rested prior to the start with the recruitment of the great El Diego as the head coach, is not one of them.
The few that seem to be competing at all in this season are Al Ain, Al Jazira and Al Shabab. With consistent and quality performances game in and game out, hence deserving to be placed in the top three, respectively.
However, if one looks at the actual entertainers on the field, it is mainly the foreign imports that are carrying the club forward. Yes, obviously, the efforts of their Emirati colleagues cannot be discounted, but the below graph gives good reason for my statement. The top ten goal scorers are foreigners; with the Ghanian, Asamoah Gyan, who with his splendid form leading the way with 10 for Al Ain. Look carefully and not even a single Emirati on the sheet.
Does that tell us that there are no quality Emirati footballers playing today?
<!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> 0 false 18 pt 18 pt 0 0 false false false <![endif]–><!–[if gte mso 9]> <![endif]–>
Not really. There are a few. Every team has their own set of quality Emiratis but the one’s that have done well this season so far would be Amer Abdul Rahman (Baniyas), Hamdan Al Kamali (Al Wahda) & to some extent the phenomenal UAE international striker, Ismael Mattar, who at one point of time, was regarded as one of the best talents to come out of the country.
What else has happened since the start of the season off the field?
A lot actually but a few worth mentioning.
The season kicked off with a tragic incident in UAE football, where we had lost rising international Theyab Awana in a fatal car accident.
Maradona had and still is constantly criticizing the officials in the country for targeting him and his team specifically. He had been red carded on the sidelines, and been fined for his outbursts on the officials. That is the Maradona we know and we love. A Maradona that stands up for what he believes in.
On a more personal experience, the switching of channels from the well-hyped (Al Jazira – Al Wasl) game to an Egyptian league match up featuring Al Ahly was more enticing for the entire group of close to 75 people (inclusive of more Emiratis than Egyptians) at the sheesha joint we frequent. That gave a bit of clarity on how the games are followed.
The stadiums as expected, are half empty during game days. The FA is still shying away from promoting the sport to the different communities present in the country. We all know that approximately 90% of the UAE population is expats. So what’s stopping them? Unfortunately, there is no definite answer from their end. Even, Sparky (the online columnist) has been unsuccessful in generating the spark needed so far.
Things are changing though. Al Jazira, based in the capital – Abu Dhabi, is the only club so far that has managed to consistently increase their game day support, with an initiative to promote the club to the various diverse groups in the city. With radio spots featuring in different languages to in game activities to engage the crowd. They have gone the distance.
Additionally, the launch of the English version of the official website by the UAE FA also demonstrates their intention as they move forward.
Comparing previous years with the 2011/12 season, there is an obvious difference. The UAE pro league follower will notice it, a positive one that too. They just need to figure out a way to involve the larger expat population into it. There are quite a few strategies out there, but would be keen on hearing what you think would work for the UAE FA?