DUBAI // The chairman of the Pro League has urged clubs to learn from the likes of Barcelona and scout for young foreign talents to develop through their youth systems.
Last season, every club was allowed to keep two foreigners in their Under 18 teams, but none of them made use of it, their primary focus being on the foreign professionals in the first team.
Following a workshop of UAE clubs and sports councils earlier this month, a recommendation has been made to increase that age ceiling to players under 19.
However, Tariq al Tayer, believes that the clubs should be starting with players at a much younger age.
"You have to start earlier, with the U12s and the U14s, and then the player can grow within the system," he said. "That means you have to search for talents. Lionel Messi is a good example. He was picked up at the age of 14 by Barcelona.
"So this is how it should be. It doesn't make sense to bring someone under 18. I believe that is too late.
"The clubs are very busy with their first teams and foreign players, so this is going to take time; things have to settle for them.
"They will have to invest more in academies and schools. Professionalism is not going to come overnight. You have to plan this really well.
"People are doing this at other clubs. We cannot start from zero; we have to learn from other professional clubs. They have done their research and come up with the best equation."
The workshop, attended by officials from 17 clubs and the Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah sports councils, also recommended reverting back to the three-plus-one allowance for foreign professionals. The plus-one must be from an Asian country.
A majority in attendance also agreed to bring down the numbers of registered players from 45 to 35 as it would reduce the financial burden on clubs and increase the changes that all players will get playing time with their teams.
"We now have 45 plus the foreign players, who are three in the first team, two in the reserves and two in the U18s," al Tayer said. "None of the clubs recruited for U18s.
"So now the recommendation is we have 35 players plus the four foreigners, which is the same as the AFC [Asian Champions League] requirement."
He said a reduction in squad size would put "more than 120 players in the market" and "will definitely affect the First Division".
The First Division is the level below the Pro League.
"Players will be able to play and the level should be better than in the current situation," al Tayer said.
A recommendation was also made to increase the number of teams in the Pro League to 14 from the current 12 and the issue will be raised at the Football Association general assembly next month.
If approved, the increase will be implemented from the 2012/13 season.
"My advice is for the clubs to be more active in the general assembly because it is the clubs who will have to make a decision," al Tayer said.