x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Everyone wants the blues

Sports shops in Abu Dhabi are stocking up on fake Manchester City strips, 11 days before the official kits are released.

Imitation Manchester City shirts, like this one hanging in the Madinat Zayed shopping centre, will go on sale in Abu Dhabi today.
Imitation Manchester City shirts, like this one hanging in the Madinat Zayed shopping centre, will go on sale in Abu Dhabi today.

ABU DHABI // Reproductions of Manchester City's new football kit will hang from sales racks in the capital today ? nearly two weeks before the launch of the official strips on July 18. At the Madinat Zayed shopping centre yesterday, the Stars Sports athletic apparel shop inspected the first kits brought in by a Dubai-based supplier. The owner of the store, Ezzat Poor, immediately ordered 180 units - five dozen each in child, youth and adult sizes. He expects brisk sales in the coming days.

"Maybe eight to 10 customers every day are asking us about this new team model," Mr Poor said. "All customers will want to get this one. It looks very good." Manchester City's head of retail begged to differ. After seeing a photograph of one of the shirts hanging in Madinat Zayed, Duncan Martin, the club's retail controller, noted several inaccuracies. "It is nowhere near the official shirt," he said in an e-mail. "Incorrect crest. Wrong colour. Wrong fabric. Not Umbro."

"The colour is the wrong sky blue - it's too light," he added later in an interview. "The crest is actually underneath the Latin motto and they've spelt the Latin motto ('Superbia in Proelio') incorrectly. Also, the neckline is wrong. It's completely different from the standard crew neck of the correct kit." The imitation shirts, made by a company called Prima, are also missing the Umbro emblem on the front. Mr Poor said they were probably manufactured in Hong Kong.

Lifelong Manchester City supporters in the UAE were equally dismissive of the shirts, spotting the inaccuracies and saying they had seen similar examples in southern Europe. After seeing sneak previews of the genuine new shirt, several said they would ask relatives in the UK to mail one after the launch. "Having a new sponsor [Etihad] on the shirt I think will help increase shirt sales. I for one have not been so excited about a kit for such a long time," said Mark Lynch, the chairman of the UAE Manchester City Supporters Club. "But most of the lads have friends or family who buy it for them and post over or order the kit online via the online store."

Manchester City has been owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed since September of last year, and big-name player signings - including the acquisition of the Brazilian star Robinho for £32 million (Dh213million) - have resulted in a surge of fan interest. The Manchester City web store has already received around double the number of advance orders for the new kit compared with this time last year. "Last year in the 10-day pre-order period, we had 5,000 shirts ordered from fans around the world, but with the vast majority from the UK," Mr Martin said. "This year, we are on target to get 10,000 orders in the same period."

The supplier of the unofficial Prima jerseys said he received the first shipments last Thursday and has already sold several hundred to stores in Dubai. "This is a good gift from here," said the salesman, who spoke on condition that his name not be published. "I'm bringing the samples to Al Ain, Sharjah, Dubai, Saudi, Iran - all the Middle East." He said stores in the capital have already purchased more than 70 dozen in the first week.

Although Mr Poor said he would also order the authentic Manchester City kits once they become available, he hopes the imitations ? featuring the name of the striker Benjamin "Benjani" Mwaruwari ? will satisfy fans until then. Noorudeen Haji, the supervisor at Stars Sports, said he would sell the unofficial kits for Dh50 for adult sizes, Dh30 for youth, and Dh25 for children. On the Manchester City website, adult sizes for the home game shirts sell for £40 (Dh237) for a small and £45 (Dh267) for a large.

The newly designed shirts with the Etihad Airways logo has been eagerly awaited. "Every day, people come in and say they need the new one because the logo is different," Mr Haji said. "They're looking on the TV, internet, and they watch and they see this new one, so they want that one. The children like 10, 12 years are always asking: when is the new T-shirt coming?" A salesman at the Juventus Sports apparel shop in Madinat Zayed said several people a day were inquiring about the new shirts. He had two extra-large size Manchester City size shirts still in stock from last year's designs, but admitted that interest in the old designs has dwindled.

"Maybe five, six people per day are asking about Manchester City now," he said. "Today I ordered four or five dozen new ones." Most of his customers are Emiratis or from other Gulf nations. Sales of the genuine apparel in the UAE would be handled via Royal Sporting House in Dubai, said Mr Martin, who cautioned fans in the UAE about buying poor quality imitations. "Obviously, anything that's produced that's carrying [the Manchester City] trademark and is not supplied through official sources should not be bought because you've got no recourse if it falls apart," Mr Martin said.

He stressed that all officially sanctioned kits were embroidered with an individual serial number. "So if you're going to a store and see some shorts with the same number on the sizing label, they're counterfeit. That's an easy way of spotting it." mkwong@thenational.ae * Additional reporting by Robert Ditcham