22 augu 2018
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Henry Winter

Alan Hansen



News Details

United Arab Emirates Soccer Warily Eyes China and Qatar


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — In international soccer, the United Arab

Emirates is looking good. The national team finished third at the 2015

Asian Cup continental tournament, and it is stocked with the country’s

golden generation of players. The team has a real chance of qualifying for

the 2018 World Cup.


The 14-team Arabian Gulf League, which professionalized in 2008, is now

regarded as one of the best in Asia. One of the clubs, Al Ahli of Dubai,

reached the final of the Asian Champions League last year.


Yet the league still struggles to attract fans, and it is now facing twin

threats from the rise of Qatar and China in global soccer that threaten to

knock the Emirates down the soccer ladder.

The Emirates, along with Qatar, was seen as a place for European and South

American stars to earn big, tax-free salaries in the twilight of their

careers. The captain of Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning team, Fabio

Cannavaro, ended his career in Dubai with Al Ahli, while David Trezeguet, a

member of France’s Cup winner in 1998, played briefly for Baniyas in Abu

Dhabi near the end of his career.

The A-list veterans now go to Major League Soccer, while the younger

talents who previously signed with Emirates clubs are heading to China and

a league that has spent around $285 million in the transfer market in

recent weeks.

Not only have the most famous clubs in the Emirates been unable to compete

financially with the Chinese teams — a decline in oil prices hasn’t helped

— but a few have ended up selling to them. In July 2015, three years after

joining Al Ain of Abu Dhabi from the English Premier League team

Sunderland, Asamoah Gyan joined Shanghai S.I.P.G. for a transfer fee

thought to be around $25 million, at the time an Asian transfer record.


“Now U.A.E. teams are missing out on players who go to China. I remember a

few years ago seeing that big stars went to Abu Dhabi

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