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The Middle East is Rising

December 31, 2010

One glance at the registered staff of Al Ahli football club in Dubai and you should be struck by two names. The manager and the club captain should be immediately recognisable to all football fans in Britain. In fact the club captain is such an illustrious player that I reckon you’d be hard pressed to find a football fan anywhere on the globe that didn’t know or recognise Fabio Cannavaro.

Fans in Britain can be forgiven for not noticing Cannavaro’s move as Abu Dhabi owned Manchester City’s lavish spending was more than a little distracting but across the world it made quite the headlines. A World Cup winning captain with Italy and a record cap winner with 136 appearances for the Azzurri, Cannavaro’s move to the United Arab Emirates following this summer’s tournament in South Africa was rather unexpected. As such, he is far and away the biggest name to have ever graced the Etisalat Pro League and alongside new boss David O’Leary, the former Leeds and Aston Villa manager, there is hope building and plans progressing as the Middle East prepares to host its first World Cup in 2022.

While the cynics and sceptics have been quick to assume that Cannavaro and O’Leary’s only interest in Dubai could be the deep pockets of Al Ahli owner and horse racing tycoon Abdullah Saeed al Naboodah, the Irishman and his captain rarely speak of anything other than A.C. Dubai’s footballing potential.

In two days times (on January 2nd), Al Ahli will make the most of their enforced winter break by welcoming A.C. Milan to Dubai for the Emirates Airline Challenge Cup. Just before the world of football turns towards Qatar to see how it copes with hosting the 2011 Asian Cup, David O’Leary and his merry band of 52 registered players will welcome the Serie A leaders to the Arab state for something of an exhibition match. Anything other than a comprehensive victory for the Rossoneri will be heralded like a victory by the Emirati club but the aspiration is already instilled in the Dubai club that in future years; such a match-up may be more evenly-matched.

In an interview ahead of the clash with Milan, O’Leary admitted that he had ear-marked a number of areas he hoped to improve upon. In the pre-match press conference, he said: “I think we need personnel everywhere. I think we’d like to be at the point where we have five to six national players in the team, and then we’ll be able to say Al Ahli has a strong squad. We haven’t got that at the moment.”

“This year we’ve set ourselves the goal that we work with what we’ve got here. Let’s work with what we have and in the first window we can maybe look at changing a few things. I think our major changes will come at the end of the season and that’s when I think we’ll have a much bigger and healthier side.”

“What we’re after is quality. We need more quality players and that’s what we’re going to try and achieve; that’s what we want to do.”

And one of those quality signings could come from Al Ahli’s upcoming opponents. Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho has been linked with a move away from the San Siro in the New Year and it is the hope of Cannavaro that he may be joined by the former World Footballer of the Year in Dubai. “I’m very happy in Dubai, it’s a fantastic experience and not just for the weather. There are many chances for up and coming players here and I would advise players like Ronaldinho to come to Dubai,” beamed the Italian in another press conference.

One of the major detractions made about Qatar after it won the right to host the 2022 World Cup was the lack of footballing history in the Middle East. But by bringing some of the world’s biggest and best to the region, like Cannavaro and potentially Ronaldinho, there is an optimism that in twelve years time, Asia may not only be represented by nations from the Middle East. But that they can learn from coaches and players from around the world so that they can re-write the history books.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 3, 2011 2:30 pm

    Grande Fabio Cannavaro in Italia 2006!!

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