Olympique Lyonnais' new signing Hamdan Al Kamali - The first UAE footballer to play in Europe & a pioneer for the national team

The outstanding 22-year-old defender was determined to become the first Emirati to play in Europe, and now many more could follow his lead for the good of UAE's national team
COMMENT
By Omar Al Raisi

Hamdan Al Kamali’s dream of becoming the first ever Emirati player to play for a top European league, has finally come true after he joined Olympique Lyonnais. This will open the doors for other young and talented Emirati players to follow his footsteps to European success.

Al Wahda coach Josef Hickersberger said he was relieved the chairman finally sanctioned Al Kamali's protracted move to Lyonnais on Sunday, as the uncertainty over the defender's future had started to affect performances. The 22-year-old left for France on Saturday to undergo a medical and then sign a half-season loan-deal with the Ligue 1 club, after chairman Sheikh Diab bin Zayed met a representative of the French club in the capital and agreed to allow the national team centre-back to leave.

Al Kamali has been the subject of interest from the French club since the summer but Al Wahda rejected their advances, claiming Lyonnais were “not serious”. Now he leaves on loan with the option to make the deal permanent once it expires on June 30.

The move ends a difficult period for Al Kamali who was dropped from the Olympic team squad and had struggled with form and injuries at Al Wahda. Now he will become the first Emirati player to ply his trade in Europe.

Hickersberger told reporters: "It is a dream for Hamdan and for the national team as well as for the club, because it now gives the confidence for the other players to follow in Hamdan's path."

"It is a dream for Hamdan and for the national team as well as for the club, because it now gives the confidence for the other players to follow in Hamdan's path"

 
        - Al Wahda coach Josef Hickersberger

Al Wahda captain Haider Ali said he was happy his team-mate's wish had been granted. "He was determined to play abroad and he has got his opportunity," Ali said. "It has been a difficult period for him in the recent weeks. He couldn't concentrate on his football until he got this out of his mind."

Never has a player from the UAE played in a top league in Europe or abroad, and this now has changed for the good of the national team which is having its own struggles after another failed World Cup campaign, where they sit bottom of their group without a point.

In the past, clubs from Europe and abroad have come knocking to take Emirati players abroad but were rejected straight to their face, sometimes without any negotiations even when players favoured the move to enhance their skills. This is one of the main reasons why UAE football is suffering, the players just do not have any experience in competitive leagues.

The UAE has good facilities, stadiums, coaches, and the rest. But what is missing? The main factors are players. Their mindset, their semi-professional nature and their daily routines are just unacceptable and unprofessional.

"The UAE has good facilities, stadiums, coaches. But what is missing? The main factors are players. Their mindset, their semi-professional nature and their daily routines are just unacceptable and unprofessional"

Al Wahda deputy CEO Khaled Awadh told reporters: "We are all happy for Hamdan as it fulfills his wish to play in Europe. We believe he will gain from his experience and on his return continue to contribute for both, the club and the national teams." Al Wahda had, like many UAE clubs, brushed away European advances for their player, but eventually it was Al Kamali's determination to go which led to them backing down. And perhaps that sets an example.

Indeed, Al Kamali's move to Lyonnais could shake the foundations of UAE football. He did everything he could to make this move happen, he made himself unavailable for games. Player power was something never of heard in the UAE Pro League yet Al Kamali has made a revolutionary decision. How top national players interact with their domestic clubs may have just changed irrevocably. The career paths of the nation's best young talents could also now lead them abroad, finally, and at an early age.

The reality is ultimately, if there is a change in the pathway for Emirati footballers then it is positive for UAE's national team which has floundered in recent years, unable to increase its standards despite its finances and big-name coaches. Al Kamali could be the player who forged the way forward for UAE football.

Follow Omar Al Raisi on

Follow Goal.com Asia on and

for the latest in Asian footballing news, features, and analysis