ABU DHABI // It is not every day that children get a chance to have a kick-about with a footballing legend – but that is what happened in the capital yesterday when World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane dropped into town.
The former French captain and current assistant coach of Real Madrid put beaming smiles on the faces of 21 children from the Special Care Centre charity when he led them through a skills session at The Dome sports venue.
The young fans practised their dribbling and took shots at goal under the watchful eye of Zidane, who looked happy and relaxed as he helped them and showed encouragement by applauding their efforts.
The retired footballer, 41, also posed for numerous photographs to give children and adults alike a lasting reminder of the day.
“The children are excited to kick with Zidane,” said Kmar Cherif, the events manager and executive coordinator at Special Care Centre.
“It’s very, very emotional and we really, really appreciate it.
“He has many responsibilities; to take time to come here, for playing with these children, really, it’s too much for me. He does many things that are good for people with disabilities and, to see him face-to-face, for me, I’m more excited than the children.”
Zidane was in the UAE to show support for an initiative between Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen and the centre, which is a non-profit organisation that provides education to children with intellectual and physical disabilities.
IWC is helping the centre raise funds to build a larger, more modern base and has committed itself to donating 10 per cent of all sales made at its boutique in The Galleria, on Al Maryah Island, between today and October 19.
Operating from a modest villa near Street 11, the centre helps 65 people, from aged three to 23. They have access to speech therapy and physiotherapy and also enjoy trips and activities.
The success of the centre is such that there is a waiting list of 186 to access its services.
Mrs Cherif said she receives many inquiries from parents who would like their children to attend the centre but it cannot take any more at its city-centre location.
“I receive many, many calls every day from people, from parents, crying, saying, ‘please, my child is at home’, and I understand but I can do nothing,” she said.
The new centre will be able to cater for 400 children and it is under construction in Al Bahia, with the hope of it opening in early 2015.
“We applaud the Special Care Centre for the remarkable work they have been doing. It is our immense pleasure to be able to support the local community by collaborating with such a selfless group of philanthropists, as we seek to do our bit for these children,” said Karoline Huber, the brand director IWC Middle East and India.
The centre, which was established in 1989, routinely relies on volunteers and fundraisers and is attended by children of many nationalities.
“It is heart-warming to see a renowned company like IWC Schaffhausen so committed to social responsibility. All of us at the Special Care Centre, including the children, thank IWC for all their support,” said the headmistress Nisha Thomas.
Chaouki Gebran, managing director of ADD Consultants, which is designing the new centre and supervising the work, turned out to meet Zidane, who is of Algerian descent.
Mr Gebran, who is Lebanese, said: “He was a very famous player in football, which is always good for the Arab countries.
“I wanted to explain to Zidane about the project. It’s great for us. We used to see him on the TV and watch him play, after that he stopped and now again we can see him.”
Zidane was due to attend the grand opening of the IWC boutique in The Galleria as a guest of honour last night, when he was also due to announce the start of the initiative.