Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher has a dream for Al Nasr: to develop the potential of youngsters from the country's expanding expatriate population in the hope that some of them could one day play professionally for the Pro League club. Until now, the talent among expatriate children has been largely untapped, with the club's doors open only to local youngsters. A privileged few, if they can afford it, join one of the various football schools. The rest slip through the net.
"How do we know how many Ronaldos and Messis we might have missed out," said Sheikh Maktoum, chairman of Nasr's board of directors. "It may sound like an exaggeration, but it isn't. How will we ever know until we tap [the potential of] these children growing up in our country? So what we want to do is invite expatriate children to Al Nasr, create proper facilities for them and then you never know what we might find."
Clubs in the UAE are allowed four foreign professionals under the Asian Football Confederation rules: one Asian and the other three from anywhere around the globe. The overseas players get hefty salaries and many leave after a season. Their under-performance and fat pay cheques usually leave local players disgruntled. It also causes a huge financial strain on the clubs. Sheikh Maktoum believes these issues could be eliminated if the team's foreign professionals have grown through the club's youth system, alongside local players, as is the case with some of the top clubs in Europe.
"Every club in the UAE invests heavily on foreign players," he said. "Why could every club not develop their own players just as Manchester United or Arsenal do? That is what we want to do. We want these players to be nurtured here, so we own their contracts. Then we don't have to pay huge sums of money for foreign players. "This will also be an opportunity for good foreign players to earn good money. Right now they have to go to another country, become professionals and then be bought by a local club here. So what I am saying is that this is an easier, shorter route for good expat football players."
Sheikh Maktoum understands getting this project off the ground will meet resistance, but he is determined to forge ahead. "Of course, there is a lot of red tape that we have to go through with the UAE FA and logistics," he said. "The rules say no expatriates in junior leagues because that is viewed as a social activity for the young local population. "To cite an example, we have two good Scottish children playing with our under 14s, but they are not allowed to play next year. So what we want to do is create an environment for them to come and still play, in a separate team or the same team, and find a way to integrate them."
Sheikh Maktoum is confident of getting youngsters through the gates and compete with the academies. "These academies exist only because of the lack if initiative from the clubs themselves," he said. "So we are going to take them on and create the best facilities. "It will be easier for someone from Karama to come and drop off their kids for training here at Al Nasr, for a nominal fee. They can come in the evenings, after school, after finishing their homework.
"Our plans are not just strategic to football. There is no harm in having an Al Nasr cricket team. Instead of playing on the streets, the children can practice here. "We will have a complete plan ready between 60-90 days. I believe it will be a positive step in the development of youth, sports, integration and belonging." email@example.com