Why do certain clubs or nations play football the game they way they do? Why are the Brazilians known for their dribbling? Why is Barcelona known for their brilliant ball possession? Why do Germans own the long ball style of play?
And then as a person who follows UAE football, the question pops up – what sort of a style does UAE possess?
It surely has to do with the setting in which kids grow up playing football and the culture of developing the talent in UAE. In Asia, there is no doubt that the Japanese have mastered the art of youth football while regionally, Qatar is known for their aggressive attempts in evolving their style starting with their youth, which of course, has worked wonders for the youth teams, as evident in recent Asian and International tournaments.
In general, the popularity of the sport within UAE’s youth had always been growing since the sport made its way to the country. With the population split between the majority of expats and the minority locals, academics has always been a priority over everything else for expat children. This is primarily attributed to the status of an expat as someone who is in the country temporarily. Hence, it is vital for these kids to concentrate on their academics rather than on football. The secondary notion, back in the day and true at times today, for any expat parent who imagined their kids playing for a UAE based club, is that club football is strictly reserved for locals and there was no opportunity to grow here. And with the lack of opportunities at a high school level, kids would drop football after middle school to concentrate on their studies.
However, as the landscape changes, the interest in the game for a select few continues through after school programs courtesy of the various high-profile club academies that have come to the UAE. Yet, throws away the majority of the parents due to the amount of fees involved. For the select few children who make football a priority for themselves, they often commit the same amount of time to football as they do to academics. In this case, both parents and players make room in their schedules as well as pockets.
When it comes to local, while many prioritize academics, the access to sending their children to local clubs at a younger age is always easier. It was initially free for UAE citizens with that rule changing at certain clubs in recent years. For many parents, it serves as a platform for their children to burn some energy before coming home.
Introduction to the Game
Though the game starts at an earlier age for both expats and local children, they normally grow up playing on dirt/sand fields or on empty patches of a parking lot rather than grass fields. This is because of a lack of grass fields across the nation as it is harder to maintain in the region for obvious reasons. Moreover, the lack of investment in facilities and a non-proportional level of them in an individual community add to the difficulty. Though, this has changed in recent times as many artificial turfs have popped up across the nation that can be used on pay-per-play basis – which are mainly utilized by adults.
Playing football on dirt fields, often barefoot, or on asphalt has a very distinctive influence on the kids here. Dirt makes it tough to control the ball, credited to unpredictability and giving rise to a positive as well as a negative clout. For example: As a result of an irregular surface, players tend to become more skilled at controlling the ball. On the other hand, players tend to dribble less as its tough to keep the ball under control, while you are on the run.
Additionally, while playing in dirt makes you a stronger athlete (in regards to your lower body), the transition from dirt to grass takes time with only a few capable of adapting to the change. Wearing cleats for the first time, for many in the Eastern parts of the world, brings about the anxiety in kids playing their usual game.
Lastly, as one takes a walk through the streets of Dubai, it is not hard to observe a game of football being played on the street somewhere;and unfortunately is the most common sport in UAE. From one angle, it is a good thing, as Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of 10,000 hours comes into effect here. Yet, lack of exposure to other sports, at an earlier age, makes them less physical and agile as they grow up, when compared to their Western compatriots.
Now, as to the style of play that can be attributed to the UAE national team, we are still trying to figure that out.