x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Boots, check. Visa, Czech. UAE football team's Eastern Europe trip

Fujairah team Al Oruba have found a cool alternative to the UAE's hot summer in a quiet corner of the Czech Republic for pre-season training.

Players from Fujairah's Al Urooba train in Hradec Kralove in the Czech Republic. Photo courtesy of Walter Novak.
Players from Fujairah's Al Urooba train in Hradec Kralove in the Czech Republic. Photo courtesy of Walter Novak.

HRADEC KRALOVE, CZECH REPUBLIC // This summer, football fans around the world have been spoiled with visits from the top clubs.

Manchester City toured South Africa, Man United visited Japan, Liverpool attracted record crowds in Australia … and Fujairah's Al Oruba flew to Hradec Kralove.

More than two dozen players from the UAE Division 1 - Group A club, along with nine staff, are avoiding the summer heat in the small Czech Republic town in Eastern Europe.

"Our team has been coming [to the Czech Republic] for five years," says Humaid Sabah, 23, the team captain, an Emirati from Fujairah who also came last summer. "Our managers know some people here to arrange the camp, to arrange the games.

"Here everybody is together. Everybody will understand each other on the field and outside the field. The weather is very good for training. You have good food and the people are very kind. We feel comfortable."

The trip to the small corner in the Czech region of Bohemia helps the young footballers to perfect their skills in a more comfortable climate, and lets them see a part of Europe very few Arabian Gulf Arabs visit.

Al Urooba have arranged four friendly games against local clubs during their three-week stay, which ends on September 3. They won their first match by a comfortable 4-1.

In between training sessions and matches, there is free time to explore the town of 93,000.

"The lifestyle here is different," says Ivan Sousa, 42, a Brazilian who is the team's fitness coach and has lived in the UAE for eight years.

"Here you can see more people in the streets. It is not the same style. Everything is different for us.

"Many players are young. This is maybe their first time to come outside [the UAE]. It is good working as a group.

"I like the European style. The weather I like. You can walk in the street comfortably. It is very good to have free time here."

Hradec Kralove, 800 years old, has a wealth of renaissance architecture in the old centre and a distinctive early 20th century new town district.

The players are staying in the new part of town and their lodgings are far from five-star luxury: they are residing in a tower, the Hotel Cernigov, which overlooks the railway station and was built during the communist era, which ended in 1989.

Nearby is the main shopping centre, on which the team has been known to descend en masse for food and shopping, their lively but good-natured presence in their official grey team jerseys making them stand out in an otherwise quiet town.

"When we have free time, some players like to go shopping here in the city," Sabah says. "The hotel brings us halal food, they know about that, but most of the time we make our own meals," Sabah says.

While there is free time for the players, the trip is far from a holiday. On a typical day there are two training sessions of up to two hours each.

Mr Sousa says: "Now it is the beginning of the season, we need more training. Here we can concentrate on training. If we stay [in the UAE] it is very difficult to train because it is very hot. You can only train once a day, so you cannot develop fitness."

The team will be back in action soon after returning to the UAE, playing Masafi on September 7 in the President's Cup.

Before then, there is a more sightseeing to do, with their itinerary including a day in Prague, the Czech capital that lies an hour-and-a-half west by train.

"Maybe we miss our families. This is the only drawback but we keep in touch by telephone and by the internet,"says Sabah, who has seven brothers and six sisters.