Marcelo Mendes, the UAE beach soccer team's Brazilian coach, has called for a radical overhaul of the domestic game, even though his underachieving side ended a friendly invitational tournament in Morocco with a win over Oman last night. The UAE began the four-team event strongly, losing on penalties to Switzerland, runners-up in last year's beach soccer World Cup in Dubai. Marcelo's squad were then humiliated 7-3 by Morocco on Saturday, but recovered to beat Oman, the tournament winners, 4-1 yesterday.
"I'm very disappointed, but it is the sport, not the team, that we need to develop," said Marcelo. "Nothing has happened since the World Cup and how we will do it, I do not know. "There are plans for a beach soccer league in the UAE, perhaps even as soon as September, but I am still awaiting confirmation. I believe we need local tournaments in every emirate, but it is not my job to organise them."
Under a Football Association directive, the Dubai Sports Council (DSC) has been given the task of developing beach soccer across the country. As part of the FA's order, which shares responsibility for growing grassroots programmes in all the game's forms around various emirates, the respective sports councils of Sharjah and Abu Dhabi handle the domestic development of futsal and women's football.
After years of amateurs-only competitions, the Sharjah body launched an 11-team, all-Emirati futsal league last season. Al Wasl won the inaugural tournament and completed the domestic double with success in the annual President's Cup competition. Abu Dhabi played host to a West Asia zone women's tournament which was won by the UAE on their competitive debut. Beach soccer, however, has floundered since November's lavish World Cup hosting. There is no permanent league and, despite the thousands of youngsters who play football in sand parks across the country every day, little is being done to harness the potential.
"I have given proposals and ideas to Dubai Sports Council and they told me they will do something this year," said Marcelo. "I've had the same squad for three years now, because there are no local competitions to find new players. "It's difficult for me, I have no options in terms of personnel. "It is not an excuse - these players are experienced and should be playing better - but I need a pool of 20 to select from and I have only 13."
Much was made of the veteran Bakhit Saad's return to the national team for the Damascus invitational, but with the current UAE squad's average age clocking in at an elderly 32, Marcelo, citing the developmental strategy implemented by the UAE's Omani neighbours, identified nationwide tournaments as the primary method to discover and nurture fresh talent. "There is no chance to renovate and improve the team. We must sit down when we get home and discuss the future," said Marcelo.
"We need to focus on youth and invest in the future. If not, it will be very difficult to continue. "Look at Oman, they have changed six players since last September because they have local competitions and are always unearthing new talent. "We need a wider pool to select from if we are to develop the team." DSC's Ali Bujsaim, the UAE referee who officiated at the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cup finals and who is now the chairman of the organisation's beach soccer development committee, was unavailable for comment.
With the UAE committed to two international competitions before the end of the year - October's GCC Beach Games in Bahrain and December's Asian Beach Games in Oman - Marcelo added that DSC must act immediately and implement domestic tournaments if he is to have any chance of arresting the UAE's slide in form and securing the nation's competitive, long-term future in the sport. firstname.lastname@example.org