x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Under 20s relish Man City test

After their success in Egypt, the youngsters will give Srecko Katanec a glimpse of the future in their friendly with Manchester City.

Players such as Amer Abdulrahman, left, in action in the U20 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Costa Rica, could step up to the senior team for the City friendly.
Players such as Amer Abdulrahman, left, in action in the U20 World Cup quarter-final defeat to Costa Rica, could step up to the senior team for the City friendly.

ABU DHABI // Next month's friendly between Manchester City and the UAE national team, to be staged at Abu Dhabi's Zayed Stadium on November 12, is likely to see the hosts blood several members of the highly-rated Under 20 squad, who reached the quarter-finals of the U20 World Cup in Egypt.

"This group has been working together for five or six years - since they were 14 or 15," said Yousef Mohammed Abdullah, general secretary of the UAE Football Association. "They are talented players and showed good skills in a very high standard of competition. Their performances made us very happy and in the Manchester City friendly, you'll find a lot of the boys." Abdullah revealed that Srecko Katanec, the Slovenian coach of the UAE's national side, watched the country's youngsters in some of their games in Egypt and is convinced several can step up to claim senior team berths.

"Our new coach was in Egypt following the games and in his mind he's already thinking of using some of the boys," said Abdullah. "Ahmed Khalil has played for the national team, and Ahmed Ali is a very good player. The goalkeeper also played at a very good level. There are five or six players who can step up - they are ready to play." An experimental UAE team is likely to be matched by a City side weakened by international call-ups. The friendly coincides with play-off ties for next summer's World Cup in South Africa, and a raft of City's expensively-assembled first-team, including Argentina's Carlos Tevez, will definitely not travel. Those international teams who are not involved in competitive games will likely be in friendly action with several games, including England versus Brazil in Qatar, already arranged.

But the City manager Mark Hughes has promised fans his squad will be competitive. "The make-up of the squad is a little bit difficult to anticipate," said Hughes. "We'll have that opportunity [to blood younger players] and there will be good experience within the squad to help them. We'd like to show [our younger players] to everyone in Abu Dhabi, but obviously there will be senior players with them to help them in the experience; the likes of Stephen Ireland [City's Player of the Year last season who, at 23 has already retired from international football] will be travelling," added Hughes.

While Ireland, Benjani Mwaruwari and Michael Johnson are the only first-team squad members confirmed to face the UAE, City's England contingent of Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry and Shaun Wright-Phillips will miss the match if, as expected, they are selected in Fabio Capello's squad for the Brazil game. Despite high-profile absentees, Hughes maintained a strong City side will line-up on the day. "There may well be players that are coming back from injuries who need games and they will need to come with us as well if they are not involved in international squads," he said, adding City's academy products had earned their chance to shine.

"We are very proud of the quality of young players we produce at Manchester City and rightly," said Hughes. "A big element of the squad we bring over will be younger players, but players we have high hopes of progressing into the first team. It will be a great experience for them." City's chief executive, Gary Cook, believes the match - which has tickets prices at Dh25 and Dh125, respectively - will be the culmination of a week he dubbed "a festival of football".

"[The friendly] is a marker in the development of our future," said Cook. "It's about engaging at all levels. "It's not just about the [first] team, it's about our international academy and bringing over coaches to look at youth players. It's a about a long-term arrangement." The FA's Abdullah shared Cook's assessment. "We are very interested in how Manchester City can help us plan for the future and improve our level of football," he said.

"The friendly is a great chance for our players to play against high standard and well-known players. In future we are looking to work at a grass-roots level to send our young boys to City's academy - this connection will help us to improve and develop," added Abdullah. emegson@thenational.ae