Al Nasr’s 3-0 victory over Al Jaish on August 24th, in Qatar had raised the profile of the Dubai based club among its Asian peers. Wanderley, recently acquired from Sharjah FC, netted twice in the game, as to no surprise given his goal scoring abilities. The jubilant fans of the blues and the wider football and non-football affectionate population across the United Arab Emirates had expressed their happiness after the victory. Mainly because, that night brought about a moment of pride for the nation as Al Nasr edged one step closer to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League.
However that moment was short lived. In a statement released by Asian Football Confederation few days before the second leg was to be played in Dubai had ruled Wanderley’s had registered a fake passport eventually “forfeiting” the match in favor of the Qataris. Wanderley was transferred in by Al Nasr, after Sharjah FC could not meet his demand of €3 million for a year, in the summer to take advantage of the fourth foreigner spot available to Asian clubs, satisfying the condition that the player must be Asian.
Wanderley Santos Monteiro Júnior, Brazilian by birth, fit the bill on the basis of his acquired Indonesian passport. His feats in the Asian scene ultimately led to the Indonesians rationalizing his potential call-up to the national side which is when the Indonesian state authorities claimed that his passport was a ‘forged or falsified document.’ The Indonesians never issued a passport to Wanderley.
After looking into the matter, the Chairman of the AFC Disciplinary Committee provisionally suspended the player from Asian football for a period of 60 days pending a full investigation into his nationality status. Al Nasr was also fined $1,000.
According to the AFC regulations (Article 26.4.3), any player participating in the ACL shall be deemed ineligible if the AFC determines that any document submitted during registration is false.
But the question many in the UAE are questioning the manner in which AFC decided to take action. The Asian body is well aware of the fact that many Asian clubs have found a loophole in the implementation of the ‘3+1’ rule. Clubs within UAE had done so in the past to satisfy their obligations to the FA and the governing body. Chilean Luis Jimenez had played an important role at Al Ahli and Al Nasr prior to moving north to Qatar. Last year, Al Wasl forward Fabio Lima (on loan) who was initially registered as a Brazilian with FA had his nationality revised to that of an Uzbeki. The issue around this switch was raised by Sharjah FC who claimed that his Uzbekistan passport belonged to a female in Tashkent. The case was later withdrawn.
Many also question the intent here. Why was Al Nasr punished for the actions of the player, who is still under investigation and not proven guilty yet? If the AFC intends to reverse its decision in the future and amends regulations so as to set an example, then the club would be in the receiving end. This situation raises the decision-making of the body as Wanderley’s origins were known prior to the quarterfinals of the Asian Champions League, based on his registration. Therefore, why wait till Al Nasr had won the game to accept the appeal after? Would it be the same if Al Nasr had lost the game? A counter argument to this would be the club’s victory raised its profile in the Asian scene alerting a few miles away.
Wanderley, who scored 32 in 51 goals during his two years at Sharjah FC, had been appropriately registered by the club with the AFC – a mandate for all the clubs in AFC, which may or may not be adhered to. Despite the lack of participation in continental tournaments, he was registered. Hence, his movement to Al Nasr was in accordance.
But if the investigation finds Al Nasr was somehow involved in falsifying documents, then all that the club had tried to achieve would be in vain. The only positive being that Wanderley had only featured in that one game against El Jaish, hence the penalty would be minimal.
But most importantly, there is also precedent for the AFC to set here. AFC and parent body FIFA have dragged this issue for a long time and considering that they have decided to take a stand on this comes is positive, be it surprising, having said that they ‘take the integrity of its competitions very seriously. In line with its newly-launched Vision and Mission, the AFC has a zero tolerance approach to all forms of corruption.’
Simultaneously, AFC has also reached out to three other players who have participated or are participating in the AFC Champions League 2016 and other Asian tournaments as ‘Asian players’ and asked for an explanation as to how they obtained their Asian nationality.
Meanwhile, Al Nasr along with the blessings from FA released the below statements in points recently, as they prepare an appeal while additionally stating the possibility of taking the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport:
1. Timing of decision announcement was 48 hours before the second leg, which affected Al Nasr players negatively in the second leg.
2. AFC disciplinary committee has not yet released any details on the freezing of (Wanderley) for 60 days and nor on the forfeit verdict.
3. AlNasr’s representatives had asked the disciplinary committee to extend the deadline to 10th of September (which falls on a holiday) for 24 hours and got refusal for no obvious reason even though there was no hurry notice issued, forfeit could have been announced after the return leg.
4. Most important note is the nature of the verdict issued (within 24 hrs) without any convicting proof of forgery. As the AFC has not yet responded in that regards.
5. AlNasr has signed a contract with Wanderley understanding that he has had an Indonesian passport since 2014, and he has been confirmed and issued player cards by both the UAE FA and the AFC as an Asian player.
Going on to add that the club would take any steps necessary to solve this issue. AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa iterated his support for Al Nasr to issue an appeal stating the club has every right to do so under the democratic norms of the Asian football body.
Yet, as it tends to be the case, that could possibly be some face-saving jargon.
UAE based digital newspaper – Emarat Al Youm had recently revealed that the date set for legal deliberations was January 27th, 2017 and will be held in Kuala Lumpur. It also states that the hearing will be attended by neutrals only within the appeals committee which would then exclude Emirati Vice Chairman of the committee – Abdul Rahman Lootah and Qatari member Salman Al-Ansari. Al Nasr will be able to send a lawyer to the hearing and present the club’s defense on the issue.
As it stands, in the event the appeals committee ratifies the decision of the Disciplinary Committee, the probability that CAS might be able to reverse the decision is very weak. However, Al Nasr will have a good chance of winning the case and recovering the points of the first leg only if they are successfully able to validate Wanderley’s passport based on documents that prove the manner in which he received the legal document.
PS: I reached out to get some clarity but was refused. One of the questions was focusing on Wanderley’s travel prior to joining Al Nasr. It would be interesting to find out if he had traveled abroad with an Indonesian or a Brazilian passport considering that Brazil allows for dual nationality.