x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

A whole new way of learning

There is no lack of enthusiasm and Barcelona school coaches are impressed by the tenacity of UAE's youngsters.

Kids aged nine and 10 took part in the soccer schools at The Sevens.
Kids aged nine and 10 took part in the soccer schools at The Sevens.

The mercury is on the rise and conditions are far from football-friendly. The season is over and most of the Pro League stars are on their way to cooler climes. In one corner of the city, though, there is still a buzz. The future flag-bearers of the country's football are sweating it out under the scorching late afternoon sun, drained and drenched in sweat, their bright yellow jerseys clinging to their slender frames. Yet, there is no lack of enthusiasm.

The group comprises two UAE national teams, those born in 1996 and 1997, eight coaches of junior teams at local clubs and a dozen or so expatriate children, who have been brought together by Etisalat at their academy in Dubai for a three-day session with Pau Marti Vicente, the technical director of Barcelona's Soccer School. "The boys worked really hard, even with the weather," says Vicente, impressed with the talent on view. "These boys are hungry to play. To be hungry after two hours under the sun says a lot.

"So it was a very interesting three days for us. We learned a lot about the level of football here in the UAE. Our goal was to give them some new methodology, new training ... to give them something different that they probably don't have here. At the end they are kids, and kids are always the same all over the world. So we tried to give them the kind of mentality and football that we have in Barcelona.

"Here we have very good players, but maybe at different clubs they have a different mentality and competition." Vicente said that the schedule had been difficult as the camp had only been for three days but he hoped the young players would benefit from learning about different training methods. "We did not have a lot of time, also the language issue was there," he said. "But we tried to give them some strategy and exercises, which lays emphasis on thinking, on making the right decisions when you are playing, deciding what to do in each moment.

"Later, whether they become professional football players or not, we do not know it. But they have to enjoy playing and learning in each training session. It is not correct for players to come for training without having fun. So they must have fun because then they will learn. "That is what we do in Barcelona, and what we explained here is the same that we do in Barcelona." With the emphasis being on fun, the children did enjoy themselves but, more importantly, they picked up some valuable lessons.

"This session was really important for me," said Rohan Appan, a Sri Lankan expatriate. "Barcelona is my favourite club and to learn from their coaches was really exciting." Enthusiasm was high among the local coaches as well, many of whom could get some of their more difficult questions answered by Vicente and his two assistants from the Catalan club. "It was a very interesting experience for us, working with really experienced coaches," opines Fawad Abdulrehman, the coach of the Under 13 side at Al Wasl Club. "We picked up a lot of interesting new things, found solutions to our problems. It was only three days, but the learning was really accelerated."

"It was a very good opportunity for us to learn and evolve," adds Mohammed Ahmad, who works with the juniors at Emirate club in Ras al Khaimah. "Whatever we have learned in these three days, we can gain a lot of benefit from in the future. Hopefully, we will have many more such camps." Two boys from the Dubai group will be selected to attend the Barcelona Youth Academy next season and watch a game at Camp Nou, the club's famous stadium.

"We want to select two kids and bring them to train at the Barcelona School," said Vicente. "The goal is not to select them for the Barcelona team. It is very difficult and not very realistic. But some of them can have the opportunity to train for a few days and to have this great experience of training with our coaches." In another part of the city, the aim of the Arsenal Soccer Schools Dubai is similar, though they do harbour ambitions of unearthing a gem who has the potential to play in the Premier League.

"Part of our goal from the start, is to produce some really hot talent from this area that we could be proud of," says Gareth Hamilton, the head coach of the Arsenal school at The Sevens. "They can pull on the national shirt and maybe, they could be an Arsenal player wearing the UAE shirt. That would be the perfect scenario. "There is no reason why we can't get players here. The demographic again shows all kinds of countries where successful footballers come from. So we are not ruling anything out.

"We've got our eye on the ground, we are looking to see who is playing well, who isn't. We've got kids from every country and every country has professional players. So definitely it's something we are looking at. "I am in constant contact with the academy guys back home and if the right players come around over here, then we would love to send them over and maybe have a look." Hamilton's optimism stems from the performance of UAE junior teams at various forums.

While the senior team have struggled in recent times, the youth team won the Asia Under 19 championship and reached the last 16 at the World Cup in Egypt last year. The U16 team also qualified for the World Cup, reaching the second round. The Football Association is paying a lot of attention to grassroots football and Hamilton is hoping the Arsenal School can play its part. "I have seen a bit [of local football], not an awful lot," adds the former Northern Ireland youth international. "I think there is a lot of untapped talent here. If we get these kids young and we really lay into them with our technical sessions and our all-round football education, I think we could produce players. I honestly believe that.

"I have heard very good rumours about the young players, the 15, 16 and 17-year-olds in the UAE national team. I have some Emirati friends who we sit and talk about it, and we feel that there are talented kids here. We just feel the structure, if implemented, would really bring them out." @Email:arizvi@thenational.ae