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Saeed Hareb, who belongs to a family of seafarers, is deeply connected with his roots in the ocean. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Born to a family of well-known seafarers and pearl divers, he grew up to the call of the sea. He swam in the Arabian Gulf and sailed on his family’s dhows. He also loved dribbling the ball on the sands of Shindagah where he lived, at the mouth of Dubai Creek.

“That was the language we understood. The language of the sea,” says Saeed Hareb, Secretary General of Dubai Sports Council, as he recounts his early years.

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Saeed Hareb with his siblings at the Al Nasr Club in the early 1970s. Image Credit: Supplied

One of 10 siblings and former captain and manager of the UAE National Football Team, Hareb says, “In those days, my paternal grandfather Ahmed bin Hareb was appointed by His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum as a judge in the Naif Court to preside over sea-related cases, whether they pertained to financial concerns, accidents or crew problems. Earlier, he would control dhow traffic and the building from where he functioned is now a museum. A mosque under the Hareb family name also stands in the same area.”

The sea, then, was his inheritance, but it was his football talent that got noticed first.

“It was my father Mohammed and elder brother Abdullah who discovered my potential in football when I would play as a boy,” he says.

“Towards the end of the 1960s, when the customs office shifted to Naif, the building was occupied by the Hilal Al Bahrain Football Club, which my father was in charge of. When the club merged with Al Nasr Club, I began to play for them in the junior category.

Promising future

“Seeing much promise in my game, my father and brother wanted me to train at the Al Wehdah Club in Deira, which later merged with two other clubs to become Al Ahli Club. I must have been 13-14 years old then.”

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Saeed Hareb (extreme right) with his college team in Egypt in 1975. Most players were part of the UAE's first football team. Image Credit: Supplied

Hareb talks of how after a match between Al Ahli and Al Wasl clubs, Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Al Wasl Club at the time, wanted him back at Al Wasl Club, which was earlier called Zamalek Club when a group of young men, including Hareb, would gather in a house in Zabeel to play.

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Saeed Hareb as captain of the Al Wasl football team during a friendly match in the 1980s. Image Credit: Supplied

“It can be said that my real football journey began at Al Wasl Club. I moved from strength to strength and became the captain. I trained under a different coach. We travelled to many countries, including Germany and Spain, to play.”

An injury cut short his promising playing career, but Al Wasl did not let him leave. They inducted him as a board member and team manager of the club.

Hareb shares a delightful anecdote about how he zeroed in on a new coach for the club when he was tasked to do it.

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Saeed Hareb at the Dubai Sports Council in Dubai Design District. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

“I was sent by Sheikh Ahmed as part of a three-member team to Brazil to find a suitable coach. The name that was on top of our list was the well-known Mário Jorge Lobo Zagallo (the former professional Brazilian football player and manager). He had a good reputation. But when we were in a taxi, we got chatting about football with the taxi driver and asked him who he thought was a good, young coach. He immediately took the name of Gilson Nunes. We kept that mind and decided to approach him too. We were invited to watch a match after which we were convinced he fit the bill. We signed him up and flew him to Dubai.”

Once he settled in, Nunes took Al Wasl to greater heights, winning the league title for two consecutive seasons.

Military calling

With things well under control, Hareb now took a break from football. He travelled to the UK to fulfil his military calling. Although he was roped in again to bring in a new coach for the national team, he continued to serve the military for 20 years, a good part of which was spent as the head of equipment procurement.

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Saeed Hareb during the days he was serving the military. Image Credit: Supplied

This was also a time when he reconnected with the sea.

Fond memories come flooding back as Hareb remembers a chance meeting that opened the gates for him to become one of the world’s best-known marine sports administrators.

“The Central Military Command had once organised a power boat race and I had gone to watch it,” he says. “Hassan Zayed, a personal friend, happened to notice me standing in the audience and asked me to come into the VIP area. But I did not have a pass, so he found an ‘organiser’ pass to get me in.

“As I watched the race, wearing that ‘organiser’ tag, some officers in the box who knew me and my family’s seafaring background began talking to me about boats, the waves and the wind. The next thing I knew was that my commander, along with two English observers, asked me to prepare a technical report on the race. I could hardly refuse my commander’s orders and did the needful.”

Class 1 powerboat racing

Now, that marked a new voyage altogether for Hareb, who is credited with introducing Class 1 powerboat racing to the UAE in 1992. This, after playing a key role in the establishment of the Dubai International Marine Club at Mina Al Seyahi and the UAE’s registration with the Union Internationale Motonautique, the international governing body of powerboating.

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Saeed Hareb is credited with introducing Class 1 powerboat racing to the UAE. Image Credit: Supplied

For Hareb, the new calling was a homecoming of sorts. His grandfathers – both from his maternal and paternal side - were prominent seafarers and pearl divers, especially his maternal grandfather Juma Bin Abdullah, who was popular as Al Sirdal, which roughly means the man who holds the key to the treasures of the sea.

“He could tell you where and at what depth the pearls lay in the ocean just by making some calculations based on the position of the stars and by smelling the water. Pearl divers in their boats would follow his advice to the tee. Such was his knowledge and understanding of the sea. I feel blessed that both my grandfathers were so distinguished. My father too was a well-known seafarer,” says Hareb.

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Saeed Hareb drawing up plans ahead of the powerboat championship in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

This deep-rooted association with the sea was amply evident when Hareb planned a Class 2 power boat race ahead of the launch of the Class 1 in Dubai in 1992.

Having convinced famed Class 1 promoter Mauro Ravenna to make the grand announcement in Dubai, and not Monaco where it was conceived, Hareb says, “The beach at Mina Al Seyahi was our stadium, the atmosphere electric. As the powerboats roared and the music blared - 62,000 spectators watched the race. After the race, there was a press conference where the President of Union Internationale Motonautique and promoter Mauro Ravenna officially announced the launch of Class 1 in the UAE,” he recalls.

Age is just a number

Those moments are etched in Hareb’s mind. Worthy of an unputdownable book, which he is in the process of writing, his journey is replete with professional achievements that are not merely limited to football and powerboat racing, but several other sports too.

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Age is just a number for the 66-year-old Saeed Hareb Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

The 66 year old, who cycles 25-30km a day, says, “Age is just a number. If you are clean in your heart and harbour positive thoughts, you will always stay young.”

Matters of the heart bring us to the subject of family. A grand dad, who enjoys his time with five children and six grand children, Hareb pays rich tributes to his late wife who passed away 20 years ago.

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Saeed Hareb with his son Mohammed Saeed Hareb. Image Credit: Supplied

“Noura was the perfect wife and mother. It was her support and the space she gave me that allowed me to continue with my sports and other commitments. I am also thankful to her for raising our children with the right values,” he says.

As he sees it, “We are all walking on a road that has many exits. Which is our exit, we do not know.”

The key is to make the most of the journey while on the road.