DUBAI // For the eight football-mad schoolboys it was a dream come true - following in the footsteps of their idol, the Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo. Yesterday, the youngsters demonstrated their skills on the pitch as they competed for the title of Dubai's fastest footballer on an obstacle course devised by Ronaldo and wearing the same boots as the Portuguese star. Their goal was simple - complete the course in the shortest time possible.
They had already battled through heats to reach the final of Nike's Cristiano Ronaldo Speed Test at the Mall of the Emirates. The finalists had been whittled down from about 50 hopefuls. Tommy Wingrove, the head coach at the Nike Elite Training Programme, scoured the emirate looking for the best players, visiting schools including Dubai College and Uptown High School. "There's a lot of untapped talent here," said the English coach, who holds a UEFA A licence, one of the top coaching licences in Europe.
"It wasn't easy narrowing it down but these boys here were definitely the best we had and it was a tough competition." Demonstrating speed and agility, the boys, aged between 16 and 19, had to dribble the ball around cone obstacles. They arrived in style, getting picked up earlier in limousines from their schools, and played in the same Dh1,700 (US$460) boots that Ronaldo will wear during this summer's World Cup, the Nike Mercurial Vapor Superfly II.
James Capon, 16, won the contest, completing the course in 15.5 seconds. He won a Nike coaching session for him and his team at the Dubai College. He beat the runner-up, Joe Ogden, 16, by less than a second. James, a Chelsea fan who was born in Britain but came to Dubai eight years ago, was delighted to have got through the three heats of yesterday's finals. "It was such a good competition and a great experience. I didn't expect to win but I play football three or four times a week," said James, who has played since he was five.
"This is a great chance for the boys to compete," said Mr Wingrove, who is setting up his own football academy in Dubai after recently leaving the Manchester United Soccer School, where he was the head coach. "There's not much opportunity for the boys to take part in serious competitions here in Dubai and this is a great experience for them, along with having a taste of the player's lifestyle for the day."
Vishal Bhatia, from Nike, said the sports company was targeting 16 to 19-year-old players around the region through initiatives such as the speed challenge. "We are really looking at nurturing young talent here," he said. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org