If the Pro League can duplicate its entertaining 2009/10 scoring average of 3.73 goals per game, it is likely it will have its foreign legion to thank. Again. Players with non-Emirati passports are heavily concentrated at the attacking end of the field. Research by The National of the 35 foreigners in the league as the 2010/11 season opens tonight shows that no fewer than 20 are forwards and 11 more are midfielders, many of them of an attacking bent.
The Pro League for years has depended on expatriates, particularly Brazilians, to put the ball in the net. A Brazilian led the league in scoring for five consecutive seasons until 2008/09 when Jose Sand, the Argentine forward at Al Ain, broke the streak last year while scoring 23 goals. Anderson led the league in scoring in four seasons, three times while playing for Sharjah and once while with Al Wasl. Fernando Baiano, a fellow Brazilian, ended Anderson's reign by scoring 24 for Al Jazira in 2008-09.
Baiano and Sand each remain in the league, although Baiano is now with Al Wahda, for whom he was a key contributor last season. Other likely contenders for the Golden Boot would seem to include Bare and Matias Delgado, with Jazira; and the Emirati youngster Ahmed Khalil, 19, unless he loses too much playing time to international responsibilities. Brazil reportedly has sent 5,000 players to professional clubs outside the country since 1988, presumably making expatriate footballers a fairly significant source of remittances to the home country.
Brazilians are well-represented in the top European leagues, with more than 40 in Italy, 31 in Spain, 28 in Germany and 11 in England. As was suggested by the author Ricardo Setyon on fifa.com: "With such a huge pool of talent within the country, competition for places in the national team is fierce, and this had led many fine players to seek their chance elsewhere." Some, he noted have gone all in with their new places of employment, leading them, Setyon wrote, to "reluctantly give up their Brazilian citizenship and become nationals of another country. A number of them have been very successful in this manner."
Brazil easily leads the UAE foreign contingent this season with 13 players. Argentina is a distant second with three players, followed by Senegal, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Oman with two players each. The UAE's expatriate players come mostly from South America (18) and Africa (12), but three hail from Europe, including Fabio Cannavaro, the Italian 2006 Fifa World Player of the Year, who must lead the league in global name recognition.
France has provided the striker Michael N'dri to the Dubai club and the Spaniard Francisco Yeste joins Wasl. Only four defenders carry a foreign passport, and Cannavaro is one of them. None of the expatriates play in goal. Pro League teams are limited to three players with foreign passports. As the season opens, all but one of the 12 teams is at its maximum allotment, the exception being Al Ain, with only two foreigners.