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League of professionalism


Oman Football Association chairman Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi unveils the Oman Professional League logo. Photo — Jun Estrada

The first edition of Oman Professional League is all set to kick off next week.

Football fans in the Sultanate are in a state of delirium. They cannot wait anymore to watch the on-field actions. All the 14 top flight clubs in the country have strengthened their sides, hired experienced players from home and abroad and roped in new coaches to boost the players' morale and change the fortunes of their sides. The battle lines have already been drawn for the first Oman Professional League (OPL).

When the actual battle begins on September 13 in five different venues across the Sultanate, they will not only get an opportunity  to watch keenly-fought clashes but also witness history unfolding before their eyes. They will experience a touch of professionalism in every aspect of the game. OPL is definitely going to be the 'game-changer' in Oman's sporting scenario.

"The launch of Oman Professional League is an important step towards bringing full professionalism in football in Oman. We have put in a lot of hard work to achieve the target. The new season will see professionalism in the organisational level, in the fixtures, on the match days, on television, and in many other areas. It will also see Omani teams taking part in the Asian Champions League in March 2014.  Once we professionalise the league, we will target to make all the clubs professional," OFA chairman Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi said.

But OPL is not a copycat of its big-spending counterparts in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar or Saudi Arabia, where huge amount of money is being spent to hire glamorous and world famous coaches and superstars who are past their prime.


Suwaiq Club players celebrate their Super Cup win.Photo - Jun Estrada

Unique model

Instead, the visionary OFA leadership drew up a unique model that suits the needs of Oman. So they want the professional league to be the best community-driven league in the world, which makes OPL stand out from the leagues elsewhere. "We plan to achieve many targets with the OPL.  The ultimate aim is to turn football in Oman into a thriving industry. We also want to become the world's leading professional league in terms of contribution to our country.  It will take a long time to achieve the target. But, the plans we have in place and the targets we have set ourselves mean that each year we will move forward," says Shabib Al Hosni, the new Chief Executive Officer of OPL.

"For the time being, our target is to make sure that the league is run professionally and that clubs and fans see and benefit from the changes we are bringing in," he adds.

Thus, the OPL has set a realistic target to contribute in the growth of the country. It aims to create over 2,000 jobs for Omanis across clubs and league and open the door for establishment of small business units that will spring around the league. It will raise the technical and administrative level of the clubs and players.

But the major objective is to transform all the clubs into community hubs. "If the 43 existing football clubs are transformed into community hubs, it will help in transforming  society. These centres will host events that will benefit children and youth. Besides, the clubs can teach youngsters the nuances of the game. At present, most of the clubs are concentrating only on football. But the scenario should be changed. People should get a feel that the club in their area belongs to them. That is the only way to achieve our target of becoming the best community driven league," opines Sheikh Hazza Al Saadi, Chief Executive Officer, OFA.

Nic Cartwright, Commercial Director, OFA, adds, "For example, clubs can send their top players to schools to give messages on healthy eating and accident-free driving. The awareness will help the kids lead a healthy lifestyle. The clubs can also conduct camps for youngsters to spot the talent."



Flags of all the 14 top division teams on display at the  OPL launch. Photo - Jun Estrada

Benefits for players

The league will open a new world for the players, the major stakeholders in the development of the game. They can turn into professionals and take the game seriously. They can groom their skills under the guidance of experienced coaches. Besides, they will get excellent medical support as each club will have trained support staff at its disposal.

"We analysed threadbare our national team's performance following our failed World Cup qualification campaign. It was an eye-opener for us. We found that our players lacked the ability to hold the fort in the last 20 minutes of every game. It shed light on their stamina and fitness. We realised that the only solution for the issue is to strengthen local competitions where we can pick players for the national team. Obviously a professional league will benefit the players the most. They will get the services of good coaches and support staff. It leads to cultivating professional players. In the first year, we expect 15 to 20 percent improvement in the technical levels of the players, while it will be 50 to 60 per cent in the organisational level," feels Al Saadi.

All the clubs, too, hope that the OPL will improve the quality of the players. "Yes, the OPL is a big boost for the players. Once they become professionals, they can devote 100 percent to the game which, in turn, will improve their skills and stamina," opines Sheikh Badr Ali Said Al-Rawas, Chairman, Dhofar Club, one of the oldest clubs in the Sultanate.

Request to support
In order to achieve its mission, the OFA has requested the Government of Oman to allocate RO 9 million every year for an initial five-year period. "Of the RO 9 million, RO 7 million will be distributed among the 43 clubs while RO 2 million will be given to the head office of the OPL. The average amount per club will be RO 410,000 for the 14 clubs in top division, while it will be RO 60,000 and RO 27,000 each for Division 1 and 2 sides. The RO 2 million allocated to the head office will cover all the costs associated with running of a fully professional league within the guidelines laid down by the Asian Football Confederation," says Al Busaidi. "Over the five years, we target to achieve significant increase in self-generated revenues via television sales, sponsorship, advertising, ticket sales, corporate support and merchandising and licensing. It is inevitable for the start-up to require funding. That's why we approached the government," he adds.

Army to release OPL players
The OFA has also requested the government to allow its staff to be given a sabbatical from their roles and try professional football. "It will help them try professional football as they can come back to their old career after they end their playing career," says Al Saadi.

Armed Forces heeded to the request and decided to release players who got contracts from OPL clubs. But the clubs were told to pay salaries if they intend to utilise the players' services after 90 days. "We thank the Armed Forces for being very cooperative with the OPL. It will raise the level of the game in Oman," feels Al Saadi. It must be noted that Armed Forces have more than 200 football players in its ranks. Around 13 players from the Army missed the Super Cup match between Fanja and Suwaiq recently.

Factfile OPL Teams


SUWAIQ CLUB
Coach: Masabah Al Saadi (Oman)
Captain: Yahya Al Dughaishi (Oman)
Home Ground: Seeb Stadium
Team Colours:
Home: Yellow & Black
Away: Red & Black
Players to Watch Out For:
Faiz Al Rashidi (Oman), Hassan Rabia (Oman), Tariq Al Taib (Libya)

AL NAHDA CLUB
Coach: Hamed Al Azani (Oman)
Captain: Mansour Al Naimi (Oman)
Home Ground: Al Nahda Club, Buraimi
Team Colours:
Home: Green
Away: White
Players to Watch Out For:
Juma Saeed (Ivory Coast), Khalifa Al Aail (Oman), Juma Rashid (Bahrain)

AL MUSANNAH CLUB
Coach: Sohail Al Rashidi (Oman)
Captain: Marcelo (Brazil)
Home Ground: Seeb Stadium
Team Colours:
Home: Red
Away: Black
Players to Watch Out For:
Sulaiman Al Jadidi, Mazin Al Saadi, Hisham Al Rashidi (all Oman)

FANJA CLUB
Coach: Hisham Al Gadran (Spain)
Captain: Mohammed Mubarak (Oman)
Home Ground: Seeb Stadium
Team Colours:
Home:Yellow
Away: Silver
Players to Watch Out For:
Abdul Aziz Maqbali, Saad Suhail, Mohammed Al Musallami (all Oman)

AL SHABAB CLUB
Coach: Idriz Al Murabati (Morocco)
Captain: Murshid Al Balushi (Oman)
Home Ground: Seeb Stadium
Team Colours:
Home: Blue
Away: White
Players to Watch Out For:
Mohammed Al Taqi (Oman), Ayman Al Hajri (Yemen), Lawrence (Kenya)

SUR CLUB
Coach: Ashraf Kassim (Egypt)
Captain: Ali Saleem Al Farsi (Oman)
Home Ground: Sur
Team Colours:
Home: Blue
Away: White
Players to Watch Out For:
Ahmed Abdul Ghani (Egypt), Khalid Al Alawi (Oman), Sami Al Hasni (Oman)

SAHAM CLUB
Coach: Aristica Cioaba (Romania)
Captain: Hassan Mudhafar (Oman)
Home Ground: Sohar
Team Colours:
Home: Blue
Away: White
Players to Watch Out For: Mohammed Cino (Syria), Da Silva (Brazil), Mohammed Abalay (Senegal)

SOHAR CLUB
Coach: Abdul Razzak Kheri (Morocco)
Captain: Hazem (Jordan)
Home Ground: Sohar
Team Colours:
Home: Green
Away: White
Players to Watch Out For:
Hussain Al Ajmi (Oman), Abdulla Saif (Oman), Merdican (Syria)

MAJEES CLUB
Coach: Crespo (Bosnia)
Captain: Attayyib Al Khoori (Oman)
Home Ground: Sohar
Team Colours:
Home: Sky Blue
Away: White
Players to Watch Out For:
Ayman Al Chihi, Marwan Hassan, Ibrahim Al Jabry (all Oman)

SEEB CLUB
Coach: Peter (Romania)
Captain: Ibrahim Al Zadjali (Oman)
Home Ground: Seeb
Team Colours:
Home: Yellow
Away: Green
Players to Watch Out For:
Ayman Al Rabia, Amar Al Busaidi, Abdul Aziz Al Noufli (all Oman)

DHOFAR CLUB
Coach: Dragan Talajic (Croatia)
Captain: Hani Al Dhabit (Oman)
Home Ground: Salalah
Team Colours:
Home: Red
Away: White
Players to Watch Out For:
Philip OluwaseunAremu (Nigeria), Hashim Saleh (Oman), Hani Al Dhabit (Oman)

AL NASR CLUB
Home ground: Salalah
Team Colours: Home: Blue, Away: White

AL ITHIHAD CLUB
Home ground: Salalah
Team Colours: Home: Green, Away: White

AL OROUBA CLUB
Home ground: Sur
Team Colours: Home: White, Away: White

Time to make a difference

Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi, Chairman, Oman Football Association

"Significant increase in revenue is a must to achieve full professionalism and we are in discussion with the government to achieve the target.  I would like to thank Omantel, the league's main commercial partner, besides others, who have contributed to the process."