DUBAI // Almost a third of England's 20 top-flight clubs are descending on the Emirates this week to avoid the UK's cold snap while preparing for the English Premier League's lucrative but exhausting final run-in.
More than four inches of snow fell yesterday across parts of England and Wales, but Reading, Norwich City, Swansea City, and West Ham United all trained instead under the Middle East sun. Sunderland were due to arrive this morning and Queens Park Rangers will touch down in the UAE tomorrow.
Brian McDermott's Reading side sit third from bottom in the league with 12 games remaining after slipping to a 2-1 defeat to Stoke City at the weekend.
The Royals, however, have capitalised on the rare luxury of more than a week without a match and have pitched up at Al Wasl Club. Their next game is against Manchester United in the FA Cup next Monday.
"This was the best option for us because you are guaranteed the weather and the facilities are terrific," McDermott told The National after holding his first training session on the pitch next to Zabeel Stadium yesterday.
"You get five-star treatment and the people are so nice, respectful and go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. It's really a fantastic place to come; the facilities are top drawer."
Reading's relegation rivals are hoping for a similar boost in their battle to beat the drop. Norwich, five points from the relegation zone, will train in Abu Dhabi, with their coach Chris Hughton conceding the English weather has made training impossible at times.
"It has been difficult for us because Norfolk has been hit a bit heavier than most with the weather, when we have had quite a few days where we have struggled to get them on to the training pitch," he said. "We are looking forward to a good few days training on some decent surfaces."
Harry Redknapp's QPR, who sit bottom of the league and seven points from safety, will benefit from the opportunity to train at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence.
"Our training ground is not the best," Redknapp said. "When it rains, it floods; when it snows, we can't get on it. And we've no undersoil heating and no gymnasium, so at least we can train properly for a few days."
QPR will be joined in Jebel Ali by Sunderland, whose manager Martin O'Neill is keen to integrate some of his new signings, including Danny Graham, into the squad before their next match at West Bromwich Albion on February 23.
"It's a chance for us do more with the new boys in particular - we haven't had much chance to do that with the internationals on last week," O'Neill said. "This should be valuable time for us."
Yet while five of the six clubs are looking to stave off relegation, Swansea have a League Cup final to look forward to on February 24.
"The players need to be in different surroundings and train in shorts in 22 or 23 degrees, instead of two or three degrees," said Michael Laudrup, the Swans coach. "It makes a difference; it does not give you much physically, but it does mentally."
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