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
0

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.


Al-Hilal boss Jorge Jesus reveals Omar Abdulrahman will make debut in Super Cup clash in London

Updated 17 August 2018
0

Al-Hilal boss Jorge Jesus reveals Omar Abdulrahman will make debut in Super Cup clash in London

  • New boss Jorge Jesus to give start to new star signing after $17 million move from Al-Ain last week.
  • Al-Hilal coach keen to put on a good show in London and start season with silverware against Al-Ittihad.

LONDON: Jorge Jesus confirmed Omar Abdulrahman will make his Al-Hilal debut in the Saudi Super Cup final against Al-Ittihad on Saturday.
The UAE playmaker joined the Saudi Pro League champions last week in a loan deal from Al-Ain that was worth $17 million, a fee that has only been surpassed once in football history. 
The 26-year-old has been training with his new teammates at English football’s HQ at St. George’s Park this week and traveled down to London on Friday with the rest of the team ahead of the showpiece game at Loftus Road.
Abdulrahman has not played since May, when Al-Ain were dumped out of the AFC Champions League by Lekhwiya, and he was not considered for the Arab Club Champions Club on Sunday, but Jesus said the 2016 Asian Player of the Year is line to make his first appearance for his boyhood club this weekend.
“Omar is training with the team for five or six days,” said Jesus. “Intelligent players like Omar learn fast, so that’s why he will be part of the game.”
There are various subplots to the game in west London, not least the fact that Al-Ittihad coach Ramon Diaz comes up against the club that fired him in February. He won the double in the first season in Riyadh and then choreographed Al-Hilal’s run to the final of the AFC Champions League in his second. Now he goes up against Jesus, the Portuguese tactician who replaced him this summer.
“It’s true Diaz could know the players more and this could influence the match, but they are working with my ideas today and I expect the match to be an excellent game,” said Jesus.
Al-Hilal lost the Super Cup the last time it was held in London, losing to Al-Ahli on penalties in a thriller at Fulham’s Craven Cottage ground. Jesus knows this year’s match could provide a launchpad for the season ahead and broaden the appeal of football in the Kingdom. 
“Everybody knows the importance of this match, because we play outside Saudi Arabia,” he said. “It represents the image of our football. We are happy to be present in London and play the Saudi Super Cup here. The eyes of Europe sees London as the center of football, so we need to create a good image of Saudi football.”

Jorge Jesus is looking to get his reign as Al-Hilal coach off to a winning start at QPR's Loftus Road ground on Saturday. 


Jesus will be without the injured Salman Al-Faraj, Abdullah Otayf and Nawaf Al-Abed while national team full-back Yasser Al-Shahrani will undergo a late fitness test. 
“We are missing some players but that should not reduce the importance of some players we have in the squad,” said Jesus. “We have to find our best combination of players to go to the match with.”
Mohammad Al-Shalhoub will captain the side from midfield following the departure of Osama Hawsawi and knows bragging rights are up for grabs on Saturday between Saudi Arabia’s two most successful clubs who have won the top prize in the Kingdom 23 times between them.
“It’s one match, there is no other chance,” he said. “We will do our best to win the cup. We can start the season well if we win this cup. We will fight hard to win, but Ittihad is doing their hardest to win it, too. We are super motivated to show a good level and start with a Saudi Super Cup victory.”
Al-Hilal labored to a 1-0 win over Al-Shabab on Sunday night and know they will need to be much nearer their best against last season’s King’s Cup winners.
“In the beginning of the season, you can have some difficulties,“ Al-Shalhoub said. “Our first home game in the Arab Cup we showed a good level, but we have to me more ready against Ittihad.”