Michel Salgado says UAE football at 'turning point' as new eligibility rule takes effect

Sebastian Tagliabue, Caio Canedo and Fabio De Lima gaining UAE passports can open the gates to a new era in local football

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Michel Salgado speaking at the Manchester United goalkeeper press conference at the Government of Dubai Media Office.  Leslie Pableo for The National
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Michel Salgado says UAE football is experiencing “the turning point right now” as the recent changes to eligibility regulations begin to take effect.

In recent weeks, it has been confirmed three Arabian Gulf League players born outside the UAE – Sebastian Tagliabue, Caio Canedo and Fabio De Lima – have been granted citizenship, thus making them available for selection for the national team.

The move was made possible following a Presidential decree issued by Sheikh Khalifa in November 2017, which allows children born to Emirati women with expatriate husbands, those holding UAE passports or born in the UAE, and those residing in the UAE to be able to compete in official competitions.

The following April, the Federal National Council approved the new ruling’s regulations drafted by the General Sports Authority, making eligible expats, including foreign men married to Emirati women, to represent the country in all sports.

A long-standing Dubai resident, Salgado has for some time been involved in the development of youth football in the Emirates. The former Real Madrid defender is the football academy director at the Spanish Soccer School at Dubai Sports City, while on Wednesday he launched the fourth edition of the Under-13 Dubai Intercontinental Football Cup, which begins later this month and comprises clubs from around the world.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - (L-R) David De Gea, Manchester United goalkeeper, HE Saeed Hareb, Secretary General of Dubai Sports Council and Michel Salgado at the Manchester United goalkeeper press conference at the Government of Dubai Media Office.  Leslie Pableo for The National
Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea, Saeed Hareb, secretary general of Dubai Sports Council, and Michel Salgado in Dubai. Leslie Pableo for The National

Speaking at the launch, Salgado said: “I think it’s the turning point right now. We’re going to see what’s happening with the [UAE Football Association] – I know that the new people coming in are really excited about the moment, about trying to change football.

“There will be new rules: we’re talking about giving passports to people that can help us develop football in the UAE. But the most important thing is not about giving passports, because that’s in the short-term. But, in the long-term, it’s about developing our players. In the end we need to find the balance.

“I don’t have any doubt about the talent we have in the UAE. For me, the problem is the system and the competition. So that’s why we’re creating special competitions to test and to challenge our players.

“I’ve been watching so many teams from the whole country, the national team as well. There is a big challenge ahead of everybody and we need to push together, need to be all together to try and change football in the UAE. That’s the real target right now for football, from the Dubai Sports Council as well. We want to change football in the UAE.”

The latest edition of the U13 Intercontinental Football Cup will take place from February 13-15 at Dubai Sports City. Run in conjunction with the Sports Council, it has been expanded from 20 teams to 24, representing 12 countries in all, and includes Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Arsenal.

Four UAE clubs will participate – Al Wasl, Al Nasr, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai and Al Wahda – together with a team from Salgado’s Spanish Soccer School. The tournament will be broadcast live on Dubai TV.

“It’s not only about bringing Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Inter,” Salgado said. “For me, I’m really proud to see not only my academy, but Al Wasl, Al Nasr, Shabab Al Ahli and Al Wahda playing with the best teams in the world.

“For the kids, that experience is something they will never forget in life. If we want to develop players in the UAE, national players, we need tournaments like this.

“For sure, if we’ve got our players playing against the best and every day being challenged by the best, they are going to improve. It’s a very important moment for football in the UAE and, of course, I want to be part of it.

"And you can see that these players, they’re locals, UAE national players, and they’re up to the level of the players of Real Madrid and Barcelona. I’ve no doubt the talent is there. But we need to work it out and support it."