x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Premier League ambition for two Dubai teenagers

Kieran Geldenhuys and Harry Mortimer, both 15, will travel to London next month for trials with West Ham United hoping to become professional footballers.

Kieran Geldenhuys, 15, a centre-back, impressed while training with Manchester United and Aston Villa last year.
Kieran Geldenhuys, 15, a centre-back, impressed while training with Manchester United and Aston Villa last year.

DUBAI // Two Dubai schoolboys will travel to London next month for trials with West Ham United hoping to fulfil their dreams of becoming professional footballers.

Kieran Geldenhuys and Harry Mortimer, both 15 and central defenders, are the stars of former England international Carlton Palmer's Football Academy at Repton School. Palmer recommended them to Sam Allardyce, the new West Ham manager.

The academy, which has been running for three years, has already produced one professional after Fabian Speiss, a goalkeeper, joined Notts County — in English football's third tier — a year ago on a full-time contract.

Palmer and his staff believe the latest two have the talent to give themselves a chance of winning a contract when they turn 16.

"Going to such a big club for training is going to be a great experience," said Geldenhuys, a Jumeirah English Speaking School pupil. "West Ham is famous for their youth academy so I'm really looking forward to it.

"It would mean so much if they offered me a professional deal. I would have to move over there, obviously, and that's a big move because it's not as [if] I would be going to a local club.

"But I would be so up for that in a year's time. I just love playing football and really want to make it."

Mortimer, a Dubai British School pupil, said he would give anything to sign for the London club, despite them being relegated from the Premier League to the Championship at the end of last season.

"I have supported West Ham all my life and me and lot of my family would go to all the games before we moved over here two years ago," he said. "Even if Barcelona came in for me, I would still join West Ham as that is my dream.

"My mum and dad aren't worried about the fact that, if things go well, I could be moving back to England without them. They see me as their pension plan!

"It would be amazing if Kieran and I got picked up. I played a lot of football in England so I know the standard required. I spent time with Gillingham Town last season and, while they are maybe not the biggest club, that experience showed me there level you need to be at if you want to make it as a pro."

Palmer, for whom Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest numbered among the 10 clubs he played for, is convinced that both players have what it takes to make it.

South Africa-born Geldenhuys, who has spent most of his life in the UAE, showed up well when he trained at Manchester United and Aston Villa last summer.

"If Martin O'Neill [the former Villa manager] hadn't left before the start of last season, then Kieran would be going back to Villa because he did so well," Palmer said. "There is no question about Kieran as far as I'm concerned.

"Technically, I can get Harry and him to a certain standard and then it's up to them to take all of this on at West Ham and we'll see if they get asked back when they are 16.

"Both have all the attributes to make it. They are big lads and good centre-halves, which is what you need in the Premier League. When I look at the standard of defenders in England, I believe both of them have a real chance, because the defending there is poor and they don't know the basics. These guys do."

Kirk Hilton, another coach at the academy, who started his playing career at Old Trafford, would love to see two boys emerge from the UAE and make it in English football.

"Kieran and Harry are very gifted footballers and their attitude is superb. They train to the maximum four times a week and are never late," he said.

"I took Kieran to United a year ago and he actually did really well, but he wasn't any better than what they had. Villa loved him, but then Martin resigned as manager and that was that.

"The standard in England is far greater and that's going to be their biggest problem because it is a big step from here."

While the two have talent, they are not being tested to the extent they would be if they trained every day with players at their level. This is where Palmer believes his academy, which he and Hilton took over last September, is a helpful stepping stone.

"The academies in the UK are just not producing footballers. The kids just want to play football. They don't want to do the boring drills, all the things you need to do to make it in this game," Palmer said.

"We are strict on time keeping, manners and things like making sure they always have their full kit. It's now up to them. It's been so pleasing to see so many kids going on and I would love to see them turn pro."

ncameron@thenational.ae