x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Fans go wild for Man City champions

A throbbing crowd of Manchester City fans chanted and cheered as their Premier League champions arrived for an open training session at Al Jazira’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday.

Martín Demichelis and Samir Nasiri of Manchester City at the training session at Al Jazira Club in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / The National
Martín Demichelis and Samir Nasiri of Manchester City at the training session at Al Jazira Club in Abu Dhabi. Satish Kumar / The National

ABU DHABI // “Ya-ya-ya-ya Toure. Ya-ya-ya-ya Toure.” A throbbing crowd of Manchester City fans chanted and cheered as their Premier League champions arrived for an open training session at Al Jazira’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed’s winning team displayed their prowess in front of an audience of several thousand. The players, dressed in yellow jerseys and dark blue shorts, stretched, dribbled and played a game for 90 minutes in front of admiring fans.

“That was amazing,” said 15-year-old Saim Abbas.“They’re the greatest players.”

Although Saim didn’t have any Manchester City memorabilia for team members to sign, he brought along a Brazil football jersey in the hopes of receiving some signatures.

“It doesn’t matter what they sign, as long as they sign it,” he said.

Emirati brothers Jamal and Yousef Al Muflehi were among the luckier fans – given exclusive access to the players prior to the team taking to the pitch.

The pair stood outside the stadium admiring their unfocused selfies of the football stars on their phones.

“I’m a [Manchester] United fan, but I wanted to see them,” said Jamal, a 14-year-old pupil at the American International School. “They’re a good team, that’s why I wanted to see them.”

He snapped photos of team captain Vincent Kompany and had his Man City jersey autographed by defender Matija Nastasic.

“It was a good experience, said Yousef, 23. “They won the Premier League, so it was amazing to get the chance to meet them.”

About 15 students from The British International School Abu Dhabi (Bisad) were selected to sit on the sidelines as the players showed off their tricks. In all, 87 pupils from the school were taken to the stadium to see Abu Dhabi’s heroes in action.

“It gives them a chance to see the world’s best players,” said Noel Wallace, director of sports at Bisad. “It’s a one-in-a-lifetime chance to meet the players.”

The audience, mostly made up of young men – many of whom were bussed in from local schools – drew a varied crowd, including families.

Luisa Gutierrez and Nada Fawzy were among the few teenage girls in attendance. While the teens were not the biggest Premier League fans, they said, they admired the players in other ways.

“They’re good looking guys,” said Nada, a 16-year-old Egyptian in Year 10 at Bisad.

“The goalie, he’s kind of cute,” said Luisa, a 15-year-old Columbian, also in Year 10.

The girls said they enjoyed the event’s carnival-like atmosphere.

Prior to the team arriving on the pitch, fans stood on their chairs, arms outstretched, hoping to snatch some of the swag on offer, such as team T-shirts and miniature footballs, all of which were fired up into the bleachers.

“We came here for the excitement, and we got a ball,” said Luisa.

Teacher Deirdre Furlong, 35, said football is in her blood, being from Ireland.

“My dad is actually a Manchester United fan, which is a big rival,” said Ms Furlong, who attended with friends. “I told him I was going to take pictures and send them to him, rub his nose in it.”

Several young fans couldn’t contain their excitement for the players, hopping the barriers and darting across the pitch. One or two succeeded in getting an autograph, though most were chased by security as the crowd cheered them on.

The invasion prompted an announcer to remind them to stay off the pitch.

“Stop crossing the pitch so that everyone can enjoy these players, your stars, your champions,” he said.

rpennington@thenational.ae