ABU DHABI // Faisal Kaba squeezes the football between his feet, leaps into the air and flips the ball behind his back before flicking it to the side with his right foot. The four-year-old boy from the west African nation of Guinea then runs through some dribbling and passing drills with his father, Mustafa Kaba, in the Football Experience Zone outside Marina Mall. "I play every day," said Faisal, a supporter of the European champions Barcelona, though he wears the red shorts and shirt of Liverpool. "I want to be like Xavi."
Mubadala Development Company, an investment arm of the Government, and the UAE Football Association are making plans to further the development of youngsters like Faisal. Since it opened on December 2, more than 4,700 people have visited the Football Experience Zone. The activities in the zone, which measures 40m by 30m, feature speed shots and precision kicking, freestyle football performances and, for children 12 and younger, short coaching sessions.
Representatives from Mubadala say it is just a sample of what they have planned to develop footballers and encourage young people to be more active. Mubadala is a sponsor of the UAE's national teams as well as the Fifa Club World Cup taking place in Abu Dhabi this year and next. The focus of the sponsorship deal with the FA is geared towards grass-roots development. Details of the youth development plans are being worked out but Sultan al Damarki, a senior officer at Mubadala responsible for the football sponsorships, said the company wanted to use the excitement surrounding the Club World Cup to raise interest among local youth.
Mr Kaba, 33, a youth coach for Al Ahli, the Dubai club playing in the opening match of the Club World Cup against Auckland City tomorrow, said yesterday he and his fellow coach Salah Marhoon had been teaching basic skills such as dribbling to an average of 50 young people per day in the zone. It is open between 4pm and 10pm every day until December 20, a day after the final match of the Club World Cup.
In addition to the coaching sessions, visitors of all ages can test their shooting accuracy as well as shooting power. At the top of every hour, visitors can attempt to beat a goalkeeper from the penalty spot. On Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays fans can watch football freestyle performances from Abdulla Afghani and Bilal B, both 21, members of the Foot Style Association. Four TVs and PlayStation 3s are set up at another station and surrounded by beanbag chairs where long queues have been forming to play the video game Fifa 2010.
Smaller versions of the experience are being set up for Club World Cup ticket-holders outside both the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium and Zayed Sports City, where the tournament will be played. It features six continental champions, including Barcelona, the kings of European football, Auckland, the Oceania champions, TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pohang Steelers from South Korea, Atlante from Mexico and Estudiantes from Argentina. Al Ahli, winners of the UAE Pro League, are the seventh team in the tournament.