IF rising star Trent Sainsbury was offered $1.2 million to play in the UAE for 10 months, his agent Tony Rallis reckons he might just drive him to the airport.
Rallis, who brokered lucrative contracts for the first Aussies to play in Saudi Arabia, is not the least bit squeamish about doing deals in the Gulf states.
Still, there are more reasons to book a ticket to the Middle East than enjoying the sounds of vast amounts of cash changing hands.
Quality imports, talented technical local players and a luxurious lifestyle make it a viable choice. If you can squeeze in a season that sets you up for life so much the better.
Rallis was behind Sydney FC playmaker Nick Carle’s one year loan deal to the UAE and believes writing off the Arab pro leagues as more cents than sense is stupid.
He gives au.fourfourtwo.com the upside of earning (a sizeable) crust in the Middle East.
“(Aussies) demean the standard of the competition over there and I suppose there are a couple of reasons for that,” Rallis said.
“The Middle East was always seen as lower tier competition. The realities are that it’s a very high-level technical competition with some very talented players.
“Yes, it’s a great lifestyle and great money but I get angry with people who put it down when they haven’t seen it.
“Nick Carle played for Bani Yas and by his own admission said there were at least four or five players of local descent that were of superior talent to him."
Carle played alongside Egypt international Mohamed Zidan who returned to the region after a seven-year stint in the German Bundesliga. Another former teammate Amer Abdulrahman – part of what Rallis calls the UAE golden generation – is trialling with Blackburn Rovers.
“Fifteen years ago when someone said I want you to send me a player to China they were rarely getting established players,” Rallis said.
“(These days) China’s pulling our best and, more importantly, they’re paying millions and millions of dollars and getting some of Europe’s best.”
Countries like the UAE and Saudi could be the next big footballing destination. Certainly lifestyle helps. When Adam Griffiths (Al Shabab, 2009) and Jon McKain (Al-Nassr, 2010-11) played in Saudi Arabia they lived in luxury compounds. Carle enjoyed penthouse extravagance on the beach with maid service.
If anything, it’s the sheer opulence of the living that holds back Middle East players: a lack of professionalism to “go the extra mile” and the motivation to test themselves on a bigger stage. In the UAE young gifted footballers can earn $500,000 plus bonuses, a house when they marry and $70,000 in cash.
“The incentives to go overseas and to struggle and compete and strive are not there – but technically and naturally they’re outstanding talents,” Rallis said.
The money-men behind the Arab pro league clubs play and pay hard. Last weekend the Sydney-based agent took a 4am call from Bani Yas deputy chairman Mubarak Awad who was floating a deal-sweetener for Socceroo and Melbourne Victory star Mark Milligan (not Rallis’s player).
“I said to him, well I think he’s gone to (Crystal) Palace but if he was to come there he’d want $1.2 million net and $800,000 for Victory, and he says ‘done’.
“If they fire up about a player or get excited about a player they’re not fearful of paying. (Zidan) was on $5million. We couldn’t afford players like that in the A-League and most of those teams have two of those quality players.”
The Middle East leagues, he concedes, are probably not the best choice for developing Aussie players. Then again, 10-months work for defender Sainsbury and the 21-year-old Mariners’ starlet could buy a house and mortgage on another. Two years and he could “buy himself a block of six”.
“Would I send Sainsbury there? No. But if Mubarak came back to me and said, the next best central defender sitting midfielder that Australia has is Trent Sainsbury, and he offers him $1.2 million, I may consider driving him to the airport. In fact I may get on the plane with him.”
Rallis, who introduced the wealthy Indonesian Bakrie family to Brisbane Roar, said in the not too distant future A-League clubs will benefit from Middle East investment. Time, then, to get our heads out of the sand and smell the opportunity.
“We as a footballing nation have got to understand a few things,” Rallis said. “We’re not that superior to them, we think we are but we’re not. And the results show that.
“Every time (the national team) goes there they struggle to do well. How come we can’t go over and thrash them if it’s so bad? How come we can’t go flog them? Maybe, because they’ve got good players.”