x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Manchester City have a new army of fans in the UAE

Connections with Sheikh Mansour and Abu Dhabi has seen support among the UAE football public grow for the the Premier League club. Audio interview

Sky Blue Members enjoyed seeing their team Manchester City beat Manchester United last week at Zayed Sports City. Silvia Razgova / The National
Sky Blue Members enjoyed seeing their team Manchester City beat Manchester United last week at Zayed Sports City. Silvia Razgova / The National

Thousands of Emirati fans in the UAE have started supporting Manchester City after they were brought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed. That is amazing as three years ago nobody here had really heard of Manchester City. Now they have taken over the hearts of the fans all over the country.

You just have to look at the rivalry between fans of Al Ain and Al Ahli, Al Ain and Al Wasl, Al Ain and Al Wahda, Al Jazira and Al Ain and, once upon a time, Sharjah and Al Shaab to show how divided the country is over their favourite Pro League team, but most are united when it comes to which English Premier League team to support.

"I have become a strong supporter since it was taken over by Sheikh Mansour and I am proud that it is owned by Abu Dhabi," Mohammed Subaith, from Abu Dhabi, said. "I have been following the English Premier League [EPL] for years but I never supported any particular team. I have seen Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea rule the Premier League for the past decade but now it is Manchester City's turn to rule."

Watching City on Abu Dhabi Sports Television takes preference if they play at the same time as their Pro League team.

"I love Al Ain and I love Man City, but if both the games are playing at the same time, I would choose to watch my Man City superstars play hands down," Obaid Abdul Aziz said.

Some only support the team because of the link to Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Mansour. There are many Emiratis who had never watched the English Premier League but are now fully-fledged City fans.

"I have never watched the EPL but followed the Spanish and the Italian leagues," Khalid Al Amiri said.

"When Sheikh Mansour took over Man City and within couple of years they were buying all the best players, I started watching the EPL and supported Man City ever since."

Not many Emiratis travel from the UAE to the Etihad Stadium in Manchester to watch them play live but there are many Emirati students studying and living in the UK who go to games.

"I started supporting Man City in 2008 when I moved to Manchester for my studies, just before it was bought out by Abu Dhabi," Rashid Al Bastaki, an Emirati student in Manchester, said. "I supported Man City because I did not like everyone being a glory hunter and supporting Man United.

"I was at the Etihad Stadium for the title decider against Man United and was also interviewed on Abu Dhabi Sports TV as well. The atmosphere in the stadium was just indescribable when City beat United."

For those who do not go to the games, the Manchester City supporters' clubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have united the expatriates and the Emiratis alike and they watch games together.

Some young Emiratis have become members of the Sky Blue Members scheme because of the benefits, including discount on flights to Manchester, package deals including match tickets to watch games live at Etihad Stadium.

Yet some Emirati football fans do not care about the club being owned by a member of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family.

I am a passionate Chelsea supporter since the playing days of Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo and I understand the transformation when a billionaire owner takes over and invests millions, as Roman Abramovich did with Chelsea in 2003.

Fans who never watched the Premier League started supporting Chelsea because some of the best players in the world joined the club. The brand received worldwide exposure. I used to a walk around the street or the mall and find people with a Chelsea shirt on. The same has happened to Manchester City.

I do not care much about Man City being owned by Abu Dhabi but I do appreciate the effort put into the club to make it among the best in the world. They play good football and that has a positive effect on Abu Dhabi.

Some suggest it is better to put the billions of dirhams into charity or the health care system in the UAE rather than waste it on a game of football but Abu Dhabi has managed to put a smile on the blue half of Manchester. At least it means United won't win it.

sports@thenational.ae

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