As Abdullah Al Kamali – the first Arab footballer to sign for a Brazilian Serie A club – touched down in Sao Paolo this week to begin his professional career in South America, some of football's leading lights joined the debate as to what's next for football in the region.
Emirates Business had the opportunity to speak to some of the game's most revered personalities, including a four-time Uefa Champions League winner, a former coach of the Italian national team, Fabio Capello's predecessor in the England job and the man who nurtured Kamali's talents that alerted scouts from some of Brazil's top clubs.
The 18-year-old Emirati striker may have blazed the trail for many to follow him out of the region as the UAE looks to banish its reputation as solely a player importer. Marco Aurelio, his coach at Al Wasl, believes Kamali's historical move will be the first of many.
"Abdullah highlights what can happen among the rest of the players in the UAE," says the Brazilian. "I'm 100 per cent sure that there's more to come because I've been coaching under-20s here for two years now and I've seen some very talented players who will be able to take this step also."
Aurelio cites the input of established foreign coaches as one of the main reasons for the improvement in quality during the past few years and, while keen to stress an immediate impact cannot be expected, the experienced trainer feels the UAE national side will benefit in the not too distant future.
"Once you are receiving the highest level of training you mature a lot faster," he explains. "It might not be ready for the coming World Cup, but we have started to work to give the players the right training and skill development and have been helped by international contacts. There are no borders in football anymore so you have to be in touch with people all over the world."
Themes explored by our experts range from the impact of foreign players in the UAE league, to the need to increase the profile of the region and the tendency to dismiss coaches too readily when things start to turn sour. There are also tips for young stars on what it takes to follow in Kamali's fledgling footsteps.
The former England manager made a name for himself as coach at Derby County, prompting Manchester United to make a move for the York-born trainer in 1998. McClaren was a relative unknown at this stage but soon developed a reputation for being one of the most tactically astute coaches in the country, using modern methods such as video analysis and sports psychologists. He went on to manage Middlesbrough in and lead them to their first trophy by winning the 2004 League Cup.
ON FOREIGN PLAYERS
What you have to do in the UAE is to look at your league, your facilities, your culture and then try to establish what players would best fit into that.
When we brought players to England we looked at where they came from, what culture they had and if we felt they would find it difficult to adapt the deal didn't go ahead.
It's trial and error, but we've learned a lot and you can only do that from experience. Don't just look at a player's name, look at his personality and background. Think can he adapt and is he the right profile for the UAE league?
ON RAISING THE PROFILE
The UAE needs that profile. As big a profile and as much of a profile as you can get. It's the only way to attract sponsors, attract fans and, importantly, attract children.
It gets you out there in the market, tells everyone what you're doing, what you plan to do and what your vision is. But to do that you need to spend the money and the resources, like the Premier League has done.
We attract the best players in the world because we pay the majority of them the most money and that will always dictate the market.
ON BUILDING A FANBASE
Away from the money, footballers are driven by entertaining crowds. You have to build up the league so people will look and see what the attendances are to give an indication of how good the fans are and if they are football people. The player will consider that.
And from that you can create. The UAE has the majority of things; a good environment to learn and good facilities. You just need a little more experience, a bit more exposure and that'll excite the fans so that more come and it gradually builds.
The Brazilian-born coach moved to the UAE in 2006 to take up his position as youth team coach at etisalat League side Al Wasl. He focused on bringing a more professional element to the club's training and has reaped the rewards as his protege Abdullah Al Kamali became the first Arab player to sign for a Brazilian club.
Kamali has since cited Aurelio as the main reason he secured the dream move to South America and presented his coach with a commemorative plaque at a press conference last month to thank him for his support.
The trainer was instrumental in early negotiations in the move and has vowed to continue his unearthing of UAE talent and vision for a better system of football throughout the region.
ON BECOMING A STAR
From my time in coaching I know what's in the young players' hearts and minds. They want to play in the top leagues, such as Brazil. They have to just believe totally in their dreams and be much more professional, even at a young age.
Be professional at your club, in all your training, pay attention to your coach and people around you, eat the proper food and generally lead an athlete's life.
It's so important to do that because the body is the main tool for a player. If the body is not ready then the player cannot train well and consequently will not play good football.
It's a great achievement to have the first UAE player in Brazil and he should be an example for everyone.
ON HOSTING BIG EVENTS
It's a great accomplishment for the UAE to host the Club World Cup in 2009/2010 as it will attract attention from all over the world.
Many things are attached to this event because the media will see the UAE as a country that is interested in raising their football name and raising the standard of football within the country.
All of the factors from the coaches, the players, the fans, government organisations and the press must work very hard to make the dream of maybe hosting bigger events, like the Fifa World Cup, possible.
This will probably not happen in my generation but it should be the goal for the next generation if we all start working together for that vision now.
The only footballer to have won the Uefa Champions League with three different clubs, the Dutch international celebrated his fourth win of the coveted trophy with AC Milan in 2007. Often outspoken and subject to controversy, Seedorf withdrew from Holland's Euro 2008 squad after clashing with coach Marco van Basten. He has been capped 86 times for his country, scoring 11 goals.
ON PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
I'm talking to some of my friends here in the UAE to develop something important that can be of great use to changing the football mentality and building the future to make the region sustainable to compete in Asia.
I'm getting to know football here. That is the dream and nothing is impossible. But it has to build gradually.
ON HAVING A VISION
As the Ruler of Dubai is saying and showing, everything is possible if you put your mind to it. I think with the right drive and the right support something can happen.
It's great to see there are people in this world that aspire to follow their dreams and make them a reality. That's important and I do that within myself.
After a distinguished playing career in which he captained AC Milan to their 1963 European Cup triumph, the Italian spent six years as assistant manager of the national team that contested the 1982 World Cup final. He enjoyed greater success during his 10 years as manager of the under-21 side, guiding three young Azurri outfits to European Under-21 Championships success between 1986 and 1996. This led to a call-up as head coach of the senior national team and they, captained by his son Paolo, qualified for the 1998 World Cup finals in France. After losing out to the hosts in the last eight, Maldini left his position and now works as a youth scout for AC Milan in Italy.
ON FIRING COACHES
Sacking coaches is not just a phenomenon in the UAE, it's a worldwide problem. In Italy, when one of the coaches lost just three consecutive games he was dismissed. If a team has problems in qualifying or moving up the league, and don't perform, immediately there is a problem.
Maybe it's difficult in the UAE because they've coaches from Brazil and Latin America and so the difference in mentality is an issue.
But if we are talking about the development of coaches in any sport they need time. A coach needs to learn how to deal with players, how to handle different situations and how to best achieve what he wants to do.
ON IMPORTING PLAYERS
When players arrive here [in the UAE] from Latin America or Europe, it's always at the end of their long careers and therefore they don't have great motives. These players are costing millions of euros and are not necessarily better than what you already have here.
The clubs should not just satisfy the players' needs; this is the problem in your country. In Italy we have the best players from South America and also from Europe who still perform.
The UAE need to modernise the league and get younger players in who are hungry. They need players under
30 years of age who are sustainable to play longer and have a natural zeal and desire to play in the league.