UAE football coach’s goal to nurture talented youngsters

Former UAE national footballer Ahmed Saeed Al Marzouqi has set up a league to encourage youngsters to become professional footballers.

Ahmed Saeed al Marzouqi, a former UAE national team footballer. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // Former professional footballer Ahmed Al Marzouqi wants to give up-and-comers the chance to have the same rewarding career he has had.

Al Marzouqi played for Al Jazira, Al Dhafra and the UAE national team, then went on to work in administrative roles in the domestic football league and Asian Football League.

Nowadays he works as a senior specialist and sports sponsor for the International Petroleum Investment Company (Ipic) in Abu Dhabi.

But the 39-year-old Emirati knows the tribulations and heartache in trying to make it as a professional player.

So with the help of a group of other volunteers, he has launched his own academy and football competition, called Yasleague.

It aims to train UAE nationals and expats between the ages of 4 and 16 to help them fulfil their dreams of becoming professional footballers.

Al Marzouqi wants to do this away from the often ruthless environment of professional clubs.

His determination for a successful career in the sport stemmed from rejection by a football club when he was a lad.

“We had to suffer until we became professional players. I was filtered out of Al Jazira when I was 7 after five months because of lack of capacity,” says Al Marzouqi.

He explains that local football clubs usually only have space for 35 children on their books, so once these spots are filled they do not accept new applicants.

They regularly filter out players, forcing youngsters to play the game they love in the streets.

“This is the dark side of football,” Al Marzouqi says.

But he says the clubs cannot be blamed because they are like buses – once their capacity is reached, they cannot accept more.

That’s why Al Marzouqi believes there should be an alternative football league that accepts all comers.

“I will enrol the players in matches, they will be part of a team and I will be their access from my position in the football league,” he says.

“And I will use all my connections to help this child, whether on national or international levels. I have established many connections inside and outside the region.”

Among the names on his contact list are Jorge Mendes, the renowned Portuguese football agent who counts the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari as his clients.

Al Marzouqi had the idea to create a league for youngsters when two of his children played in the Birmingham Soccer League in the US for a year.

“I liked the concept because unlike the entire world where players go from streets to club to professional level, in the US it goes from school to college to professional.

“Participation in the US is for fun. It is considered activation for the children because they don’t have clubs to begin with.”

Al Marzouqi recalls another negative aspect of depending solely on sports clubs.

“They do not accept obesity. Anyone who is fat, they kick him out. This is another dark side,” he says.

“I will accept anyone, boy or girl, and I will make a deal with sport clubs that whoever you reject, forward them to me. I will prepare them and return them to you. I will also be the eye of the clubs. Whoever wants to visit the academy and select players, they are welcome.”

The academy takes its name from the initials of his children Yousef, Alia and Saeed.

Al Marzouqi has also launched a company, Al Shabab, with plans to launch other sports leagues. “It will include different types of sports, events, leagues and summer camps.”

With support from the Abu Dhabi Government and sports council, he is planning to take his project across the Middle East.

So, if the UAE does one day produce its own Lionel Messi or Gareth Bale, Al Marzouqi could well have played his hand in it.

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hdajani@thenational.aeName xxx xx the biogEarly years

■ Xxxx 1963, United Kingdom; later became a South African citizen

■ Xxxxxxxxxxxxxx xx BSc in Civil Engineering, University of Cape Town

■ Xxxxx Married to Audrey; two children – Georgia, 13, and Annabel, 11


■ 1985 Joins the South Africa National Defence Force for two years

■ 1988 Begins working at Grinaker Construction in South Africa

■ 1995 Comes to Dubai to work at Khansaheb Civil Engineering

■ 1998 Joins Gammon Construction in Hong Kong

■ 2002 Becomes managing director of Dutco Balfour Beatty in Dubai