According to stats from the UAE Arabian Gulf League, only two Emirati’s have ever made it to the list of top ten goal scorers in the country’s ever shifting league system, since the 09-10 season. The first was midfielder Mohamed Salem Saleh Al Saedi from Al Dhafra (now Al Ain) who had racked in 12 goals under his belt. The second was Diaky Ibrahim of Al Jazira who came in third in 10-11 with 12 goals. The only quandary with him is that he is an Ivorian who received Emrati citizenship in 2006. One would argue that Omar Abdul Rahman would fall under the same category having given up his Yemeni documents – however this would lead us to an entirely different level of conversation.
Though the league has improved in positive terms on the offensive ends, we hear ourselves lament on an end of season numbers that does not include an Emirati on the list. The first Emirati on this season’s list is Al Nasr’s Habib Fardan Abdulla with 9 goals.
It is interesting to note that lately, we enter every pre-season with hype around big names that would adorn the colors of our favorite clubs. Top management drive statements in earnest, hoping they can boost turnouts to their respective homes. It is interesting because the intention is simple; more big name “highly-skilled” foreign names involved, the better the turnout during home games. The most significant factor here is that these names would obliquely carve down and promote the country at a global stage.
Though, the sight of players like Grafite, Gyan and Ricardo Oliveira on the pitch makes the league look all the while attractive, officials still seem to be in denial when it comes to developing quality among the local players. Most of them have at least momentarily stumbled onto the understanding that one the experience of their foreign colleagues could only help the growth of the local players. Retreating on the experience front, experts rarely mention focus at the grassroots level. Why would they? The national team, with its current crop of players, is on an undefeated streak of 20 games (updated – which ended last night with a loss to Armenia) heading towards the Asian Cup in Australia early next year, with an optimistic frame of mind.
Comparing a similar list (above) from within the nation’s immediate neighbors, data reveal that each and every GCC country has one or more local players on their top goal scorers list.
And most importantly, these GCC nations have maintained a level of consistency in regards to having homegrown talent on the list. And many of them have gone past their norms to perform astonishingly well at a global stage. Oman being the most recent based on their performances during the World Cup qualifiers. UAE has not achieved that yet at the Asian Cup level, let alone World Cup qualifiers.
Those endorsing the idea of experience have strayed away from the “real world context.”
Instead of investing on experience, it would be ideal to test the strategy of investing on grassroots. The introduction of an opportunity for expats to play under specific age groups in order for the locals to get accustomed to different playing styles at an earlier stage, would be the most beneficial on the longer run. This is not to downplay the importance of experience which is a core component, but to make a positive change in an effort to help the nation in the longer run.