Ali Saleh is symbolic of a new generation of sporting heroes

The rising star of UAE football, Ali Saleh. Chris Whiteoak / The National
The rising star of UAE football, Ali Saleh. Chris Whiteoak / The National

It’s the dream of many a young football fan to play for their country and perhaps, one day, to represent it in an international tournament. For Ali Saleh, that dream is within reach after he was voted the best young player in the UAE and headhunted to play in the national senior team. The 19-year-old from Dubai has had many pinch-yourself over the past few years, from being signed up to play for Al Wasl’s senior squad the day after his 16th birthday, the youngest ever player to do so, to winning his Golden Ball from the Arabian Gulf League and being snapped up by Nike on a three-year sponsorship contract. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play for the national team,” admitted Saleh.

Much hope rests on his young shoulders – and other teenage athletes like him – to become the first UAE sports star to make it on the international stage. The pressure on athletes at a young age can be huge and it’s important to bear in mind how much support he will need as he begins a thrilling new chapter. Saleh is fortunate enough to have a strong family network, with an Emirati father who has been dropping him off at training grounds since he was six years old. The teen footballer has another special asset that is unique to the multicultural UAE, with its 200 nationalities living side by side. His mother is Scottish and he has always had a foot in both worlds, even speaking English with a slight Scottish lilt. Part of a generation with a multitude of diverse cultural influences, that stands him in good stead to stay grounded and feel at home, wherever he is in the world. If he does one day discover his dream of playing alongside Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, there will undoubtedly be proud supporters on two continents claiming him as their hero.

Updated: July 1, 2019 11:39 AM

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