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From the World Cup to … Fujairah?

July 18th, 2014 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Arabian Gulf League, Brazil 2014, Football, soccer, The National, UAE, World Cup

One of the surest ways to move your soccer career forward is to do a little something with a successful team at the World Cup. Like the one that ended on Sunday.

Luis Suarez scored two goals against England, bit a guy, and got a huge deal to more from Liverpool to Barcelona.

Toni Kroos scored two goals in Germany’s rout of Brazil, and he went from Bayern Munich to the Olympus of soccer, Real Madrid.

Arturo Vidal didn’t score a goal for Chile, but he looked good enough, when he was healthy, that Manchester United has been trying to pry him away from Juventus, which doesn’t pay as well.

Keylor Navas, Costa Rica’s goalkeeper, made perhaps the biggest move, going from mid-table Spanish side Levante to Real Madrid, after shining in the Ticos’ quarter-final run in Brazil.

And then we have Jorge Valdivia, a man who scored for Chile against Australia, in Brazil, started one match, came on as a substitute in two more, as an impressive Chile side reached the final 16 … and as of this week he now plays for Fujairah SC — the most obscure club in the UAE’s top division, located in the most isolated part of the country.

Wha … what?

It is a move that flies in the face of all logic. To an outsider, anyway. You play for a good team, score a goal, in the World Cup, and you go to a bigger club. One with an international reputation.

Valdivia has been with a leading Brazil side, Palmeiras, for the past four seasons. Apparently, Palmeiras wanted him to stay. At 30, it’s not like he’s done.

And he goes not just to the UAE … but to Fujairah?

The emirate is on the east coast of the UAE, far away from the bright lights of Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

And the club bearing the emirate’s name has for all but two of the past 13 seasons played in the UAE’s second tier, which includes semi-pro sides who can’t afford to have names on their jerseys.

It has to be mind-boggling, for his fans in South America, both in his native Chile (for whom he played in the 2010 World Cup, too) and in Brazil.

Granted, it’s a bit strange. It would make more sense if he went to one of the semi-prominent big local clubs, like Al Wasl (who in 2011 hired Diego Maradona as coach) or Al Ahli (who brought in Fabio Cannavaro) or Al Jazira, whose owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, also owns Manchester City.

But Fujairah it is, and this is perhaps most of why this makes sense for Jorge Valdivia.

–He played in the UAE before. With Al Ain (the club that employs Ghana’s captain Asamoah Gyan) for two seasons in 2008/09 and 2009/10. Al Ain loved him. He was vastly popular. Many who saw him play still believe he is the greatest footballer to have played for a UAE club. It was reported in Chile that Al Ain officials offered him a lifetime contract, if he would come back after the 2010 World Cup.

So, the UAE is not a foreign concept to him.

–Fujairah, amazingly, apparently is paying him serious money. Remember, this is a club that hasn’t spent money since 2006/07, the most recent season they were in the top league. But he apparently is getting a three-year deal worth $7.5 million. And there is no income tax in the UAE.

No, that isn’t Premier League money, but he probably was not making that in Brazil and, at 30, might have trouble commanding that kind of money going forward. South Americans play all over the world not necessarily because they like to travel, but because they can make more money.

(Though Valdivia told The National his move is not just about the cash.)

–Valdivia and his wife were kidnapped in Brazil in 2012. They were held by gunmen for three hours after paying a ransom via withdrawals from ATMs. That can sour a guy on a country.

Soccer players in South America sometimes have to deal with these sorts of things. Meanwhile, the UAE is nearly crime free. We have been told by South American players that one of the aspects of playing in the UAE they enjoy is personal safety.

–And, it must be said, Valdivia has a checkered reputation, if his wiki entry is to be believed. Run-ins with coaches in South America, public indiscretions. He may have burned some bridges.

Fujairah is the Outback of the UAE, and the man will have to work hard to get in trouble there — though he probably will live in Dubai (where trouble is easier to find) and commute to the east coast of the country for training and matches.

At any rate, if he can stay on the field, he could make Fujairah prominent in the UAE for the first time, and maybe in a wider area, as well.

Should be fun to watch.


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