The future of football in the UAE is looking very bright indeed if the recent UAE Schools and Streets Cup is anything to go by.
Played in front of a packed crowd at The Dubai Mall, the culmination of this prestigious tournament saw The International School of Choueifat’s under-16s gain revenge for last year’s final heartache by defeating The French School 3-2 with a gritty performance that epitomised spirit and determination. The event, organised by du Football Champions, gave the nation’s finest young players the chance to showcase their skills, with the best 20 being sent to train with Spanish clubs from La Liga and Segunda, as well as with Manchester United. If that carrot wasn’t enticing enough, Real Madrid legends Roberto Carlos and Michel Salgado were on hand to cast their eyes over the talent on show, also doing a spot of coaching along the way.
Double Champions League winner Salgado is a familiar face to youth footballers here, in his role as director of Dubai Sports City’s Football Academy. And the Spaniard, 40, feels there needs to be a huge transition in the way the game is approached in the UAE if top players are to be produced here. “We’re trying to get the kids when they are really young – five or six years old – so we can shape them,” he tells Time Out. “The challenge here is the lifestyle. It’s so easygoing.
The commitment is not at the level you need to become a footballer and hunger is needed to become a professional. We can’t just work with the kids, we need to work with the parents as well. I think it’s an education that’s going to take a long time, but I’m just going to try to do it.” Sultan Osman, du’s CEO, is rightly proud of the competition’s success, telling Time Out that his dream is to produce “champions of the future” from the UAE. Salgado, meanwhile, believes the 2022 Fifa World Cup Qatar, and indeed tournaments such as du Football Champions, could be the trigger for kids to stop treating football “like a social club”.
“They are going to feel the passion we’ve got in other continents and see what football means for us,” Salgado says. “They don’t have that passion we had when we were kids and played just to become a footballer, just to win. It’s a long journey, it’s hard work and these types of tournament are what I’m looking for. We need to start on the streets, always.”
Viva España The Spanish clubs set to train our young stars
The most successful club in Andalusia, Los Rojiblancos have a proud history of producing home-grown talent such as Sergio Ramos and Jesús Navas. Five-time winners of the Uefa Cup/Europa League and the current holders.
The south coast club have enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years, most notably being just minutes away from the Champions League semi-finals in 2012/13.
Plying their trade in the second tier of Spanish football but challenging for promotion back to La Liga. Former Arsenal star Lauren finished his career here, while ex-Newcastle striker Xisco is in the current squad.
Despite languishing in the third division, this Andalusian outfit were in the top flight as recently as 2005. El Salvador’s finest and one of Diego Maradona’s favourite players, Mágico González, spent eight wonderful seasons here.