Did the UAE have a chance at making the World Cup and blew it?

May 31, 2018 8:00 am

Social media networks in the UAE, particularly the Twitterverse, are abuzz with World Cup excitement for a bunch of international and local teams, with fans cheering for Brazil, Saudi and every other team but the Emirati one, which did not make the final cut. Did they actually stand a chance to qualify? What went wrong?

World Cup frenzy

A recent Twitter survey conducted by brand and research consultancy firm Hall & Partners gauged World Cup fever in the UAE, and 96% of users attested to harboring increasing excitement for the quadrennial event.  88% confirmed that they have previously watched the competition.

As for the teams themselves, Brazil had the most sizeable backing, with 25% throwing in their lot with the yellow and blue clad players. Germany and Argentina followed close behind, with both scoring 18%.

When asked about backing their Arab neighbors, Egypt dominated with 29%, with Saudi lagging behind a mere 2%, at 27%. Morocco landed at 18%. Egypt’s first match is scheduled for June the 15th, for a faceoff against Uruguay.

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How far was the UAE from making the WC, in 2018?

While the UAE team was running for a spot on the World Cup roster, they eventually did not qualify. The Emirati team has had a rough time for the most part, participating only once at the World Cup in 1990, and losing all three of their games, as noted on the team’s website. The team has tried rotating several coaches and managers, yet things didn’t quite improve.

On the other side of the pond, Egypt has qualified for the first time in 28 years. Saudi Arabia has made numerous appearances at the World Cup over the years, actively encouraging and investing in their team over the years. So why has the UAE not had that much success? Is it due to a lack of financial commitment to the team’s development?

This lack of success could be due to several factors that can be mitigated with the right investments. World-famous Egyptian player Mohamad Salah had a humble start to his career at the local Egyptian Al-Mokawloon club, eventually making it as a forward player for Liverpool. With the right coach, facilities, equipment, and training, the UAE team should have what it needs to make it to the big leagues.

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So where did the UAE investments go?

It is worthy of note that the UAE has put a large amount of money into sponsoring European teams. Research consultancy Repucom reveals that the UAE has been the largest investor in shirt sponsorship between 2005 and 2015 in Europe, with Etihad and Emirates airlines as the frontrunners for UAE sponsorship. UAE sponsorship of European teams totaled $139 million in 2014 in total, while in February 2018, one single $265 million contract was signed between Arsenal and Emirates airlines to promote the airline via club activities, according to BBC News.

Following a revenue report in November last year by Manchester City Football Club in which they reported record revenues of £473.4million ($630m), its Emirati Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said, “What hopefully comes across is that the football organization and off-field business have the right symmetry and balance to allow us to continue to further strengthen and grow.”

These external investments that Emirati entrepreneurs are making are safe and short-term, as they are banking on big and reputable names in the international football community. Why not invest locally? True, the investment wouldn’t pay off as quickly, but the benefits in the long-term are grand. By putting their money at home, these entrepreneurs would be investing in people, in their own national team, and in the long run this will lead to further prosperity for the country, as well as elevating the Emirati national team to the international stage.

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It’s not too late

However, the UAE has not forgotten about football in its own land, having committed a hefty amount in 2009 into refurbishing the Sheikh Khalifa Ben Zayed Stadium. In 2017, it hired the renowned Italian football manager Alberto Zaccheroni to lead their national team after the previous Edgardo Bauza had left to take charge of the Saudi national team. The UAE has also been cultivating their local clubs, having renovated the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium, host venue of the Al-Jazira Club. Investments went into several infrastructure and equipment improvements, as well as aesthetic retouches.

So while the UAE has not completely forgotten about their local team, the country’s investments are still leaning outwards rather than inwards. The UAE team is talented – all that’s needed is to cultivate this talent with the appropriate investments. Hopefully, the team will be prepared to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

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Mark Anthony Karam
By Mark Anthony Karam
Mark Anthony Karam has 4 years of experience in the field of visual and written media, having earned his Masters degree from the UK. You can get in touch with him here: [email protected]