Emirati footballers have backed the Ruler of Sharjah's pledge to withdraw funding from clubs that fail to develop local talent.
Sheikh Dr Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi said this week that financial support would "stop by the end of the month" if the emirate's football clubs did not up their game.
He delivered the warning during the live radio programme Al Khat Al Mubasher (The Direct Line) on Monday.
“Every club costs Dh50 million and they asked for an increase in the budget,” Sheikh Dr Sultan said.
“I want to see my children in these clubs. Even if they don’t bring results I want them to spend their time in the clubs.
“If my sons [Emiratis] are in the clubs then the financial support will continue. Otherwise it will stop by the end of the month.”
A task force has been set up by Sharjah sports chiefs to tackle the issue.
Players support Sharjah Ruler
Tariq Ahmed Al Hammadi, 34, a midfielder with Al Nasr in Dubai, said it was vital to improve Emirati participation in all sports.
“This is in favour of Emirati talent, all sports, and football in particular,” said the UAE international.
He said the number of Emirati football players has dropped significantly.
“It's not only in football, but across other sports too,” he said.
He said he was aware of a number of Emiratis who had given up the game after struggling to find clubs because of the influx of overseas talent.
“I know many talented players who have been through tough times to get into any local club but couldn’t because of a system that forced clubs to limit the number of Emirati players.
“The system allowed more residents and foreign players to register.
“Those Emirati players gave up and looked for regular jobs.
“Our children’s chances are slim if not for the Sheikh’s decision.”
UAE rules on overseas talent
Last year, the UAE Pro League increased from four to five the number of foreign players allowed in squads.
The rulings also allowed for as many as five non-Emirati residents to be named in matchday squads.
The league allows for eight foreign and expatriate players to be selected in any squad, with up to six in a starting line-up.
In 2020, Brazilian-born Fabio De Lima and Caio Canedo and Sebastian Tagliabue, who is from Argentina, were granted UAE citizenship, freeing them up to represent the Emirates on the international stage.
The move was made possible after a change in regulations in 2017.
Sheikh Dr Sultan compared the UAE's history-making achievements in reaching the Fifa World Cup in 1990 with its disappointing display at the Arabian Gulf Cup, where the team crashed out in the group stage.
“I remember in the past we reached the World Cup in Italy and scored against Germany,” he said.
“We didn’t bring expatriates or foreigners. During the recent international tournament, we didn’t have good results.”
Waleed Hussain, 30, a midfielder for Al Wahda in Abu Dhabi, said Emirati players need to be given the chance to shine in club football if they are to thrive for their country.
“I am very happy with the Sheikh’s decision,” he said.
Authorities take note
Any action taken by Sheikh Dr Sultan on sporting budgets would affect only clubs in Sharjah.
Football authorities in the emirate have already responded to his robust remarks.
A committee was established by Sharjah Sports Council after the radio broadcast to examine the issue.
The task force has announced that an indoor football tournament to be held in Sharjah will be open only to Emirati players.
“The first step was to announce an Emirati-only indoor football tournament,” said Mohammed Al Hammadi, member of the committee.
“The clubs taking part in the indoor football tournament were informed they have until September to make sure only Emirati players participate in the games.”
He said regular meetings will be held to assess ways to better serve home-grown talent.
“The number of foreign players differ from one club to another,” Mr Al Hammadi said.
“But we have an overall number of all players with a breakdown of foreign players, players who are residents and Emirati players.”
He said the committee would seek to encourage more Emiratis to join Sharjah's football clubs.