Talented youth coming up through the ranks has always been the lifeblood of football. Decades ago this was generally run on a local club level with novice players from the immediate area being snapped up by talent scouts and being nurtured with a view to playing as a professional for that team.
But times have changed and football truly is a global sport with teams featuring players from all round the world, not just the surrounding area. For some this means the spirit of having a local team with local players has been diluted, for others it represents the exciting prospect of seeing the world’s best players on display every week.
The nations of the UAE have so far not made much of an impression on the world stage, but Arsenal FC are hoping to change this situation.
Training the next generation
The club has had a long association with the area, predominantly through their sponsorship by their Global Partner Emirates airline and in 2009 established a soccer school in Dubai whose aim was to give schoolchildren the opportunity to learn the skills to the able to play the game “The Arsenal Way”. Based at the Emirates’ dedicated sports ground in Dubai, The 7evens, it provides training for players of both sexes at the state of the art facility with an age range of 4 up to 20. Training is provided by UEFA-qualified coaches and the school is run by the former Arsenal midfielder Ian Selley.
Over the year there are three 10 week courses to coincide with Dubai’s school terms and the experience is made even better by frequent visits from current Arsenal first team players.
The game comes to life
The school is just one of the signs that the world’s most popular game is really starting to take off in the region and with many UK Premiership clubs already owned and sponsored by UAE individuals and organisations this is hardly surprising. The prospect of the 2022 World Cup taking place in Qatar has also already done a great deal to increase interest in the sport in the region. It’s also given a real boost to the far wider economy in general attracting investors in both real estate and even to the opportunities offered by the region’s many investment markets including the quite rarefied world of CFD trading.
As to whether the Arsenal soccer school will lead to the export of talented players, that remains to be seen. However there are many positive signs from their previous successes with their UK training academy whose successful graduates have included internationals like England’s Jack Wilshere and Nigeria’s Alex Iwobi.
The countries of the UAE themselves are also fully behind the initiative, as demonstrated by the staging of the 2016 Hamdan Bin Mohammad U17 International Football Championships which was won by the Saudi Arabian team Al Hilal and which also featured youth teams from Spain, Germany and even Brazil.
So it surely can’t be too long until fruits of all this effort and investment start to pay off and in the not too distant future we’ll see players trained in the UAE really starting to break onto the world stage.
And, for many in the region, this won’t be a moment too soon, and just maybe, they will end up playing for Arsenal!