Abu Dhabi amateur footballers to play at the World Cup
ABU DHABI // It is Duplays' competitive five-a-side football night, and Sherif Nagy, 31, is pacing along the sidelines. Tall and lean, wearing a black hoodie and flip-flops, he is busy overseeing his charges, a squad of Arab expatriates. Mr Nagy, who once played football for the UK's Nottingham University, is shouting encouragement and making substitutions at the Dome at Rawdhat's outdoor pitches on Airport Road.
"They are overdoing it," he says as his friends pass the ball and move up and down the pitch, keeping possession and wearing their opponents down on the way to a 5-1 victory. "You can see how many times they went, and the ball possession is like Barcelona style, but they don't finish it because they are in a hurry. "I don't give them instruction," he adds. "I don't want to be like a coach, but I will tell them after."
Other than the organisers of this recreational league, he is the only person on the sidelines on this particular Tuesday who is not playing. For many in the 10-week Duplays league, it is a chance to enjoy competitive, organised football they might not have found otherwise. For Mr Nagy's team, tonight's match is just "for practice". Mr Nagy, born in England and now a manager at a furniture store, plays left back and is the captain and leader of the Spartans, a 25-man squad of footballers. He takes responsibility for organising, mixing and matching players to enter competitions.
Formed two years ago with just eight players, Mr Nagy's squad has grown into a first, second and third team. The players train at least once a week between matches, all the time with their eyes on the variety of prize tournaments in the UAE. Theirs is the type of dedication that might make the casual footballer, who just wants an informal session once a week, chuckle. But, then, the casual footballer might not have won two tournaments that will see Mr Nagy and his teammates travelling to the World Cup in South Africa next month - all expenses paid - to watch quarter-final matches and play on the same pitch as international footballers such as Kaka and Wayne Rooney.
Mr Nagy and seven others - English and Arab expatriates, as well as an Emirati - will be making the trip to watch three knockout-stage matches and play against 10 six-a-side champions after winning a six-a-side tournament in April in Abu Dhabi and then, one week later, a five-a-side trophy. They may well see England, Italy and Brazil play live before they play their own tournament on July 1 at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria against six-a-side teams from Argentina, Chile, Germany and the US, among others. The team played in the same six-a-side tournament last year at Old Trafford, home to Manchester United, and finished fourth, winning the consolation competition.
Mr Nagy attributes his team's recent success to discipline and a solid fitness regime. "It is not that we are brilliant players, but it's like I take all the headache because I try to organise as much as possible," says Mr Nagy, who has lived in Abu Dhabi about six years. "You know, football is about discipline, seriously. To be on time, to play right, fair play, and that is our target really. "Before every game I used to tell my players you have to love each other and respect each other, that is the most important thing in football."
Given the transient nature of expatriates in the UAE, Mr Nagy also is always on the lookout for new talent. He says that since his squad's success last year, there is no shortage of people who want to join. Mr Nagy and his teammates are continuing a UAE tradition of amateur footballers. The country's large number of tournaments and competitions - Mr Nagy's Spartans will be competing in three tournaments next month ahead of their trip to South Africa - makes it the perfect place for amateur teams to flourish.
In the 1980s a UAE amateur 11-a-side league of mostly British expatriates packed into buses and travelled to Dubai, Jebel Ali, Al Ain, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi to play each other, according to David Shields, who competed in the league in the early 1990s. That league was replaced with leagues in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Today there are amateur leagues in Dubai and Abu Dhabi still going strong, and new organisations such as Duplays, which conduct shorter seasons, are proving popular with men and women hungry for organised football.
"There is a very, very good standard of amateur football in the UAE," says Dean O'Grady, the organiser of the Dubai Amateur Football League. "Those guys [Spartans] have obviously done huge amounts of work. Their fitness, their ability and their knowledge of each other as individual players ? it is no surprise they have gone to that sort of level. "Every amateur's dream is to play professional football, something they will always have aspired to from being a young child."
Mr Nagy and his friend and rival Moataz Mashal, 27, say it is too late for them to live the professional dream. They have day jobs now but still aspire to something bigger. Mr Mashal, an attacking midfielder who is Mr Nagy's counterpart at club named Lambos, led his team to victory in the amateur tournament at the Dubai Football Sevens in March. "I am looking for a brighter future for the team," he says. "My idea now is to, in five years, be able to play against teams in the second division" of the UAE Football League.
Published: May 25, 2010 04:00 AM