Dubai football academy opens possibilities for UAE footballers in UK and US

Three months ago a new youth academy launched in Dubai called City Football Club Dubai which hopes to give UAE youth a chance at making it big in the UK and US. (Provided)
Updated 16 January 2018

Dubai football academy opens possibilities for UAE footballers in UK and US

DUBAI: The route from the UK to Dubai is a well-traveled one for footballers at this time of year.
In the past week, the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Celtic have landed in the UAE for warm-weather training. There will inevitably be more to come in the coming weeks.
Rarely, however, has the talent headed in the other direction.
European clubs are happy to take advantage of the UAE’s reliable weather and impressive training facilities but when it comes to mining young talent, the Gulf state is simply not on their radar.
Seventeen-year-old Andrea Borg provided a potential watershed moment last April. The attacker, born in Dubai and educated at the city’s GEMS Wellington School, made his first-team debut for English League One side Peterborough United.
He followed in the footsteps of goalkeeper Fabian Spiess, who played a handful of games during five years at Notts County between 2010 and 2015 after moving from the UAE.
They are the exception not the rule so far, but this could be about to change.
Three months ago, a new youth academy launched in Dubai with lofty ambitions. City Football Club Dubai is promising genuine pathways to professional football in the UK, or collegiate soccer in the US.
Terry Kidd, a former professional footballer for Scottish side Aberdeen, is City FC’s director of football. He believes the newly formed club can provide the missing link between Dubai’s aspiring players and a future career in the sport.
“It’s all about setting our players on a long-term trajectory,” Kidd tells Arab News. “This is football as an objective, not just an activity.
“The appetite was there in the UAE for a high-performance academy that has the look and feel of a professional club and we’ve responded to that demand.”
Like professional academies in Europe, players on the elite program — from U-8s to U-18s — attend five sessions a week. They have access to innovative training technology, and regularly receive bespoke video and text analysis packages.
Three months ago a new youth academy launched in Dubai called City Football Club Dubai which hopes to give UAE youth a chance at making it big in the UK and US. (Provided)

“This sports science approach isn’t about gimmicks,” Kidd explained. “We want players to engage with their performance. We are breeding an elite environment.
“Our coaches and staff have worked at professional clubs and have the dressing room experience, the understanding and appreciation of the small margins that make a difference.”
Football academies are big business in the UAE, with the likes of Barcelona, Juventus and Arsenal among those to offer “Soccer School” experiences to expatriate and Emirati youngsters alike.
It is a lucrative, but saturated, market and those able to trade on the name of a professional parent club unquestionably have an advantage.
But while these programs are designed primarily to build revenues, Kidd insisted City Football Club — no relation to the Premier League leaders — are dedicated to unearthing Dubai diamonds.
“Club-affiliated academies are run in a very black and white manner; they are commercial driven businesses that are all about attracting numbers.
“Our model is about identifying and nurturing talent. Our infrastructure and network is setting these players up for a clear future in the game. If a player leaves us at 14 to go to an English club, we will view that as a major success.”
In April, City FC will test themselves against the best. A UK tour will see the club compete in the Manchester International Super Cup against a host of professional academies.
The piece de resistance, though, is a trip to Manchester United’s Carrington training ground to face the Red Devils’ youth teams.
It represents a fantastic opportunity for City FC’s players but it will not be the first time they have taken on professional clubs. UAE sides Al-Wahda, Al-Jazira, Al-Shaab and Al-Nasr have already been opponents and City FC have enjoyed plenty of successes.
The competitive nature of these fixtures has given Kidd confidence that phase two of the City FC plan — to turn professional and compete in the Arabian Gulf League — is not just a pipe dream.
“The long-term goal is very much to play in the UAE professional divisions,” Kidd says. “But first we need to get a stable infrastructure in place and build the brand, the recognition of City FC.
“After the merger of Al-Ahli, Al-Shabab and Dubai Club last year, we know that the UAE FA don’t want more clubs folding. They want new clubs and we certainly have the desire to be one.
“For now, though, we are a great sparring partner for the AGL clubs — we bring a competitive, high-intensity football that challenges their players. The clubs like that and for us it’s a fantastic development tool.”
City FC Dubai is still in its infancy but at a time when rumors of further club closures in the AGL are rife, it is heartening to see a new door opening in UAE football.

Historymaker: Saudi teen secures Kingdom’s first ever Olympic gold medal

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Assiri wins historic first gold for the country.
Updated 18 October 2018

Historymaker: Saudi teen secures Kingdom’s first ever Olympic gold medal

  • The victory marked Saudi’s third time on the podium at the two-week Youth Olympics
  • I have been working towards this moment for 10 years, said the gold medalist

BUENOS AIRES: It is said that the karate-ka who has given the necessary years of commitment and meditation to the sport is both fearless and tranquil. They can, it is said, be calm even in a burning building.

Last night, inside a furnace-like Europe Pavilion at the Youth Olympic Park, and in front of Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Al-Assiri won the Kingdom its first ever Olympic gold medal. And welcomed it, initially at least, with utmost calm. 

Defeating Masaki Yamaoka of Japan 8-0 in the Men’s Kumite -61kg final, the 17-year-old Saudi immediately thanked his opponent and bowed to the various officials, before turning to his coach, removing his red gloves slowly, and greeting him with a starch salute. Only afterwards, once these rituals of respect were over and his opponent had slipped away, did Al-Assiri explode with joy, his face contorting into beautiful agony as he screamed in guttural Arabic and jumped around the mat.

“I am so happy, so proud,” he said, his prize glinting in the spotlight of the world’s media. “This is the first gold medal for Saudi Arabia and our first medal ever in karate. I have been working towards this moment for 10 years, especially in the past two when my training intensified. I came for gold and this is the result of years of serious work. It was very difficult, but I am just so proud. Thank you to Allah.”

The victory marked Saudi’s third time on the podium at the two-week Youth Olympics, after bronze medals in weightlifting and 400m Hurdles. It is a stellar return for a country that brought only nine athletes to Argentina and has won just one medal at this level before, a bronze in equestrian four years ago. Yousef Jalaiden, the chef de mission for the Saudi delegation, had confidently predicted medals earlier this week, but even he admits expectations have been exceeded.

“We are very happy right now,” Jalaiden said, watching as Al-Assiri, wrapped in the Saudi flag, posed for photos with Prince Fahd bin Juluwe bin Abdulaziz bin Musaed, the head of the delegation. “It’s our best achievement ever at an Olympics — be it Youth or the full Olympics. We are so happy — we hoped for three medals, like I said before, and we got them,”

Karate is making its Olympic debut this week ahead of Tokyo 2020 and Assiri had secured his place after winning at the first qualifying event in Croatia this summer. In front of vocal support from Saudis and Egyptians, he was handed the historic victory after his offensive front-footed display culminated with Yamaoka fouling four times during their bout.

“During training, people from other countries were all telling us Mohammed would take gold, but for us it was never a certainty,” Jalaiden added. “We expected him to reach the final, but when you get to a final, anything can happen. He has been training exceptionally hard though and it has all paid off.”

Earlier in the afternoon, Egypt’s Yasmin Nasr El-Gewily won the Women’s Kumite 53kg final, defeating Japan’s Rinka Tahata 2-1. “Egypt are our neighbours and we have an excellent relationship with them, so today it is like our nation is one,” said Jalaiden. “We have both enjoyed great success here.”