Dubai: Ahmad Ashraf may not be too familiar a name in footballing circles in the UAE. Neither is Kemoko Tounkara or Deng Bona or Okei Ampofo, or Jacques Nyama for that matter.
These are a bunch of talented footballers who may or may not adorn the rosters of professional clubs in the UAE or abroad. Given a chance to play anywhere in the world, I feel they are as good as any, but I doubt any of them will make it through to any of the 14 clubs in the UAE Professional League at the least.
Since the start of Ramadan, I have been regularly making a stop at the Dubai Police Officers Club in Al Garhoud, which is hosting the third edition of the Shaikh Maktoum Bin Rashid Ramadan Football Tournament. There are 16 semi-professional teams participating in this tournament and the standard of football is quite high thanks to the presence of such talented players mentioned above.
So far, these players have stood out among the rest.
It was Tounkara from Kenya making the difference between Dubai Diamonds and Al Noqba in their Group B match.
Bona hails from South Sudan and plays for the Sudan Gunners here. The youngster came up with a classy overhead finish to give the Gunners the lead against Al Khawaneej last week. It required a fellow African, Ampofo, to come up with a fantastic strike to draw the two teams level.
And then there is Nyama from the Dubai Diamonds, who has time and again displayed a tremendous capacity in utilising his body to shield the ball, as well as scoring goals with finesse.
But perhaps the one player I am hoping someone will pick up from this tournament is a teenager. 17-year-old Ashraf, who has shown lovely anticipation on the field as an attacking midfielder for the UAE Association of Universities. Despite his tender years, Ashraf knows where he needs to be at the right time.
“He’s such a great gift to our team,” Ashraf’s manager Awad Allah Abbas said to me.
“He learns things very quickly and it is so much easier to give him instructions. I can see a bright future for him in football, and my only hope is that one of the clubs here notices his talent and takes him in,” he added.
For the sake of football, I too would like to see the likes of Ashraf well placed on a career path.