DUBAI // When Mohammed Motasem heard his named called late on Wednesday night, he could hardly contain his excitement. The 17-year-old had just been picked, with four others, to travel to Italy for a week of intensive football training with Juventus FC. "I just cannot believe it! I didn't think I would hear my name being called out," said Mohammed, a Jordanian who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 10 years. "This will be my first time to Europe. My dream is to play with my favourite team, Real Madrid."
For the past week, hundreds of hopeful teenage boys, mostly Arab expatriates, have been training from 7.30pm until 9pm at the floodlit Al Nasr Sports Club with Tommy Wingrove, a British football coach. The initial group of 249 was first whittled down over five days to 16. Five were picked for the Juventus training camp and, as a surprise, a sixth player was chosen to spend a day visiting Barcelona FC in Spain.
Matt King, 17, a Briton, and Lukney Nascimento, 17, an Angolan, will join Mohammed in Italy, along with Alaa Mezher, 17, and Claudio Maalouf, 16, both from Lebanon. Abdullah Alashqar, 19, a Jordanian expatriate studying at Sharjah University, is headed to Barcelona in mid-April. The camp is the second of its kind in the Middle East, set up by Nike to support local talent and give opportunities to teenagers. "This programme provides expatriate players who don't get opportunities in local clubs to be involved in an elite club, where they can step up to another level," said Mr Wingrove, who has been coaching notable youth teams for seven years. He has coached at the Manchester United Soccer School in Dubai the past two years.
The Nike programme was free and since its first session in October, the number of participants has more than doubled. Last year 100 boys registered. The marketing manager of Nike Middle East, Sahar Elguindy, hopes similar projects will follow. "Everyone who comes, even if they don't get through, loves the experience." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org