The U.A.E. Premier League is in only it's second season. As such it is a remarkable achievement that they have managed to host the FIFA Club World Cup at a time when the hosts are guaranteed a place for a team from their country. This is a major coup, which unfortunately this year they have failed to capitalise on.
FIFA requested that all leagues be professional and this gave all countries a chance to remarket their competitions. It is also possibly the reason that Michael Rodosthenous is here, he is the first non Emirati in such a role, and his expertise could move the game forward in this country, however he has a host of issues to deal with in order to achieve this, noticeably the mindset which is to be the best. Look at the Burj Dubai, the world's tallest building (on 4th January next year when it opens) the Emiratis did not release details of its actual height so no one could beat it and then have added a spire to claim the title. They were determined that this would be the tallest.
Clearly the U.A.E. cannot be the best in terms of football and they must learn to accept this, and realise that they can play a part, and they shouldn't give up because they are not number one.
I mentioned Abu Dhabi was easy to navigate as it is set up on a grid system. Well the one thing they forgot was to align the grid system with Mecca, and so all the mosques are at a slight angle.
Michael is in a similar position he hopes to transform the game in the U.A.E. but is working with hands tied and doesn't quite fit as Emirati society is a closed one. However his appointment with Al Nasr has also given him a role as the middleman in contact with the western world for the U.A.E. football authorities. Don't be surprised if we see former stars playing out their remaining days in the U.A.E. League in future years.
I spotted an interesting piece of fair play in their rules when teams from different leagues meet. "The FA has permitted the Premier clubs to register three foreign players with only two for the First Division clubs and thus in a match that pairs together a club from the Premier division against First division clubs in the President's Cup competition, the Premier clubs will field only two of their three foreign players".
In Spain it is not unusual for ex-pats to have close affiliation to their adopted clubs. Here it seems like they do not want outsiders involved. There is no advertising of fixtures in the press or even around the stadiums, and I couldn't find any information about local games in any of the English speaking newspapers. Of course part of the problem is that only 20% of the population are from the Emirates. Trying to find out about a game on Sunday saw me head to Bani Yas to meet Saeed, that evening they would be hosting Al Ain.
Or so we thought.
It had been raining now for two days and the streets of Abu Dhabi had turned into rivers. Arriving at the stadium I would not have been surprised to hear that the game had been postponed. It hadn't been postponed just moved to Al Ain. The information I had clearly stated that Bani Yas were at home and Saeed from Bani Yas wasn't aware of this change. (Bani Yas are in the process of building a new stadium and have stopped playing games at the old one).
So we went back to Khalidya, in Abu Dhabi and watched the game on TV in a sheesha bar with Liverpool v Arsenal on at the same time. I understand that Abu Dhabi is made up of over 200 islands, during half time Saeed went to find a cashpoint, he gave up as we were marooned.
Not put off the next day I headed north to Ajman, where I was confident they would be hosting Al Shabab that evening. First thing I did arriving in town was head to the stadium to confirm the kick off time. I managed to do this with the groundsman and I checked the conditions would be playable. The rain had now stopped and the sun had reappeared for the first time in days.
The game finished 5-3 to the hosts but the standard was very poor. It left me thinking that if this is the standard there is no point in star names coming here in a bid to promote the U.F.L. (the U.A.E. Football League) unless they are just here for the money. The process must start with the homegrown players. It is easy the coach to say that the foreigners did not play well, but they need to start to produce their own players and in order to do this they need to listen to the expertise that they are capable of buying in to.
© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com