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An Arabian Gulf League Fan

September 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Arabian Gulf League, Dubai, Football, Pro League, soccer, The National, UAE

These words came out of my mouth tonight:

“Mahmoud Khamis is with Nasr! That’s where he went!”

Which is revealing, in this sense:

I know way too much about the Arabian Gulf League, which began play in the 2014-15 season tonight.

Good times!

The AGL is the domestic soccer league, here in the UAE.

It previously was known as the Pro League, but for the 2013-14 season the guys who run the league decided to change the name to the “Arabian Gulf League” — mostly, I think, to tick off Iran, across the Gulf. Because in Iran they call that body of water “the Persian Gulf” — as does most of the English-speaking world. The Arabs on the south side of the Gulf, though, would prefer not to give Iran (or Persia, Iran’s ancient antecedent) any credit for a Gulf they believe is more theirs than Iran’s … and thus, the Arabian Gulf League. (Which had a side-effect of Iran’s Football Association banning any Iranian from playing in the UAE, and a few had been coming over. And, over the summer, Iran changed the name of its league to the Persian Gulf Pro League. Tit for tat.)

(Though we should note that the “official title sponsor” of the league is Arabian Gulf Development.)

Which is a long way to go to reveal yet again that I know way too much about the Arabian Gulf League … which is what happens when you cover something for going on six seasons now. Yes. I distinctly remember the victory celebration at the end of the 2009-10 season, when Al Wahda won the title, and their fans took to the streets for long and slow honking and cruising celebration. And now we are in to 2014-15.

Back to Mahmoud Khamis.

He played for that Wahda team, back then. And remained as they mucked around in the middle of the table, in subsequent seasons. Little guy. Left-footed player. Played on the wing but also at left back and even as a central defender. Fast.

He wanted to leave Wahda, last season, and they let him go … to Al Nasr, one of Dubai’s big teams. And there he was, and I knew it because I recognized him. Among maybe 50 or maybe even 100 guys in this little league that I know on sight.

I suppose it is like any sports league anywhere: If you watch it long enough, you will gain a familiarity that adds interest to it.

In the case of the UAE, I always have felt that significant attention has to be given to the professional soccer league but it is, by far, the highest expression of sports in the country.

Not everyone goes to a match, but nearly every Emirati, anyway, will have a preferred team. With Al Ain being the most popular, because of their record 11 league titles and because they have a fairly big city all to themselves.

Abu Dhabi, the capital, has three teams, if we include Baniyas, (with Al Jazira and Wahda) which is out in the suburbs. Dubai has four teams (Ahli, Nasr, Shabab, Wasl), Sharjah has two (Sharjah and Kalba, one on each coast of the peninsula), Fujairah has one, Ajman has one and Ras Al Khaimah has one. The 14th club, Al Dhafra, is out in the western Abu Dhabi desert, part of the emirate but not part of the city.

Anyway, six of the seven emirates have a team in the league, which is good.

The league is interesting, too, because it spends a lot of money. (A lot of money is sloshing around the UAE, waiting to be spent.)

How much money?

Ahli apparently paid Nasr Dh40 million (nearly $11 million) for the UAE international midfielder Habib Fardan, who also is going to get Dh10 million a season ($2.7 million) in salary.

A lot of the money goes to foreigners, too. Each club is allowed four expats, and those invariably are a key to the team. They are needed to score goals, at the least, because only a handful of UAE citizens are adept at the “back of the net” thing.

Probably the most famous of the local expats is Al Ain’s Asamoah Gyan, captain of Ghana’s national team. Others include the Brazilian Grafite, at Ahli, who was the former Bundesliga top scorer, while at Wolfsburg. A few people know about Mirko Vucinic, a Montenegrin who played in Italy for most of a decade, most recently with Juventus. And there are others, and some of them are quite good.

The expats all have their story, and they tend to come and go fairly quickly, because the moment they stop scoring they usually are off-loaded, and another batch are brought in. And they last longer than do coaches.

So, yes, half the fun of the league is recognizing guys when they switch teams, which sometimes is a sort of stealthy process — especially for us English speakers, who often are not included in breaking news.

There was Mahmoud Khamis! Now with Nasr. But to me he will be part of the Wahda championship team of Fernando Baiano and Pinga and Ismail Matar and Hamdan Al Kamali and Basheer Saeed and Mohammed Al Shehhi and …

Well, I know way too much about it. And I’m a bit proud of it.


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