In Dubai’s media offices, the excitement is more tempered. After all, seeing a footballer in Dubai is like going on a desert safari – everybody’s been there, done it. Whether they’re here to stay (Carlton Palmer, Fabio Cannavaro), apologise to their loved one (Peter Crouch, John Terry), or propose (Ashley Cole), it’s as if they get a free timeshare along with their team contract. The question is: why do Premiership players love this place so much? Could it be that the city, renowned for its ‘new money’, resonates with the sportsmen and their ever-more-inflated pay packets? Or, more likely, that there are fewer photographers lurking around waiting to take their picture? Dubai’s visa laws ensure there are far fewer freelance snappers here, and the stricter hotels demand permission for any professional photography. Another reason could be – or used to be – the property market: David Beckham, Michael Owen, David James, Joe Cole, Andy Cole and Kieron Dyer all own, or have owned, houses here.
Rob McCaffrey, Showtime’s local football TV pundit, offers his opinion. ‘They come here for privacy, as well as the top hotels and weather. In the UK they live in a goldfish bowl – there will always be people outside their houses and at the training ground. Here, they may be photographed once or twice, but they won’t be bothered as much as if they went somewhere like Majorca.’
Joe Morrison, a TV presenter for Ten Sports, agrees. ‘I’ve heard that one famous tabloid had to put a photographer up at the Burj Al Arab to get shots of Rooney – not something every paparazzi can afford!’ he explains. ‘A lot of footballers like the One&Only Royal Mirage for the low-level villas hidden in the trees, while apparently the WAGs like having so many high-end stores within easy access, and they’re far less likely to be recognised in Dubai’s malls.’
Whatever the reasons, this invasion needs to be catalogued. Over the page we’ve listed the footballers we’ve spotted off-duty in our city, to bring you the first ‘footballers’ guide to Dubai.’ Think you’re a potential WAG or entourage member? Read on…