Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has implored UAE football to improve itself by encouraging players to test themselves overseas.
Zaccheroni revealed at the Dubai International Sports Conference that the Blue Samurai had benefitted from the fact he now has a pool of 28 players earning their living in Europe, including the likes of Shinji Kagawa (Manchester United) and Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow).
By contrast, all of Mahdi Ali’s 23-man Gulf Cup of Nations squad play for clubs in the Pro League.
Hamdan Al Kamali recently returned from a loan spell with French club Lyon where he didn’t make a single first-team appearance while club and international colleague Ismail Matar has never left the Gulf despite winning the Golden Ball at the 2003 Youth World Cup.
Al Wasl defender Lucas Neill recently questioned the ambition of Emirati players as he admitted, that while some ask him about his experience playing in Europe, little if any show a desire to test themselves abroad.
It’s a probem former AC Milan and Lazio boss Zaccheroni believes needs to be addressed if the UAE are to match the lofty ambitions of Footall Association president, Yousuf Al Serkal, who recently said he wants the nation to be among the top three in Asia.
“This area has made good progress but East Asia has made better progress because Japanese and South Korean players are playing now in Europe,” Zaccheroni, whose side beat the Whites 1-0 in Mahdi’s first game in charge, said.
“It allows players to grow and is to the benefit of the national team. I think one player can grow when they are playing with players in a big championship.”
The Italian added: “It’s a choice, always there are pluses and minuses. I think the line followed by Japanese players is positive.
“The domestic championship in Japan doesn’t really offer a lot. Young players in Europe are developing, growing. There are positives and minuses but in the short-term it really is positive.”
Jose Mourinho has worked with the some of the greatest players of the modern era during his managerial career, but he insists none of them compare to Diego Maradona.
Mourinho has been privileged enough to work alongside a host of star names including the likes of Didier Drogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo in a career that has yielded league titles in four different countries.
He has also witnessed first hand the devastating destruction cause of Lionel Messi with his Real Madrid side on the receiving end of the Argentine’s genius on more than one occasion during his two year reign at the Bernabeu.
Messi’s remarkable haul of 91 goals in 2012 has seen many players – past and present – pundits and fans alike queuing up in recent weeks to proclaim the little Argentine as the greatest ever exponent of the beautiful game.
For Mourinho, though, that title belongs to another Argentine. “Maradona is football,” said the Portuguese. “You can’t compare anyone with Diego as a player.”
In an interview with Sport360° earlier this year, Maradona said he considered himself to be the game’s greatest and said that Messi still had plenty of work to do to rightfully claim his crown.
“Messi is doing really well in the comparison to me. You see I have made my career, Messi is just making his,” he said.
“At the end of a career one can say ‘this one was better’ or ‘I liked this one more’. I laugh when people say ‘he is better than Maradona.’ Let him write his own story and at the end of his career one can decide who is the best.”
Arsene Wenger thinks Theo Walcott is starting to show signs that he can convert himself into a top goal-scoring striker in the same way that Thierry Henry did at Arsenal.
The Gunners boss has given the winger a frontline role and it has paid dividends with a run of good form by Walcott. And Wenger thinks the influence of Henry, who has been training with Arsenal, has helped.
“Thierry gives him advice, which is always important and Theo is a very intelligent boy,” Wenger said. “He understands very quickly when you tell him something and that’s why I think he can do very well in this position.
“I like what I have seen of Theo through the middle. It’s an interesting challenge for him. I think he can take it on. He is now 23. I decided to play Thierry Henry at 23 through the middle because you have to learn a lot before.”
Wenger, though, does not think the new role will play a part in Walcott’s decision to sign a new deal. If he does not, there is still a chance he could be sold in January. That might push Wenger to move for striker Demba Ba, whose Newcastle side visit the Emirates on Saturday.
“I like Demba Ba, yes,” he said. “But I wouldn’t like to put Newcastle or us or him in an uncomfortable position. If you ask me, ‘Do we sign Demba Ba?’ I say no.”
Arsenal have set their sights on the fourth spot, currently held by Spurs who visit Sunderland. And their boss Andre Villas-Boas said: “At the moment everyone is packed together, which is very dangerous. What we want to do is have a stronger second half to the season than last year.”