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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

How a Man City camp is transforming the lives of children in rural Abu Dhabi  

Located in the western region of Abu Dhabi, Al Mirfa is a rural area that offers few recreational activities for boys, until the Rising Stars initiative came along

Rising Stars practicing at the Al Dafra Football Club Al Mirfa Branch. Victor Besa / The National.
Rising Stars practicing at the Al Dafra Football Club Al Mirfa Branch. Victor Besa / The National.

Many of them had never been taught how to play football before, but after a two-week camp with coaches from Manchester City Football Schools, hundreds of Al Mirfa boys showed unique talents that could turn them into professional players one day.

Located in the western region of Abu Dhabi, Al Mirfa is a rural area that offers few recreational activities for boys, until the Rising Stars initiative gave them a chance to take their self-learnt football skills from the streets to a professional field.

The initiative launched by Al Bayt Al Mitwahid Association, has held three such camps in rural areas of the emirate since last December for boys aged between 8 and 16, aiming to build their fitness, communication and leadership skills.

“This could be their first step for a healthy life … some of them could even decide to make a career out of this,” said Abdullah Al Neyadi, Chairman of the Al Bayt Mitwahid Executive Committee.

“So it could be a life changing experience and a networking opportunity.

“Now there is so much destruction in society, it is a good opportunity for them to do something different.

Saif Salem Ababneh (left) and coach Chris McCarthy. Victor Besa / The National.
Saif Salem Ababneh (left) and coach Chris McCarthy. Victor Besa / The National.

“I feel kids these days are very distracted, but when they come here they are all equal so they leave their ego behind,” he said.

The camps always coincide with school holidays to give children something useful to do away from the streets.

“During holidays, children here have nowhere to go other than this club, there is nothing else to entertain them,” said Eissa Al Hammadi, manager of the club in Al Mirfa.

“This area is rural, not like the cities, so the kids have nowhere to go,” he said.

Previously, the club could only accept Emiratis and sons of Emirati women, however, a presidential decree issued last year allowed them to also accept expats who were born in the UAE.

“Now we have opened the door to everyone, it is not possible to differentiate between children based on nationality, they wouldn’t understand.”

He said the children were specifically excited about wearing Manchester City kits. “The kids were so happy, and people from outside would come and watch when they saw the Manchester City coaches and kits.”

Rising Stars awarding ceremony. Victor Besa / The National.
Rising Stars awarding ceremony. Victor Besa / The National.

During the camp, the boys learned to do skill zones and rondos, they visualised moves by their favourite players and implemented them.

“They were really motivated and they recognised the players and picture the move, so it was a really powerful tool,” said Chris McCarthy, development squad coordinator at Manchester City Football Schools.

During the two weeks, he also noticed 225 unique players, “so this shows that if you provide these kids in the area with opportunities to play, they will do that [with talent].”

He said he was surprised with the children’s knowledge of Manchester City, “they knew every player.”

As the camp concluded on Thursday, the boys were specifically excited about the sheets they received featuring Manchester City players, with their signatures on the back.

“I will frame it and hang it on the wall,” said Ahmad Waleed, a 12th grade student from Egypt.

He said the highlight of the camp was learning to play with self-confidence and to manoeuvre and make passes.

“I used to get nervous while playing, so I wasn’t able to pass the ball to my team players, but now I can do that.

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“I will take what I learned and try to apply it, and add to it skills from the internet.”

He said he never had the chance to be coached before, “I only used to play with my friends in the street.”

To ensure the camp has sustainable results, five coaches from Al Dhafra Football Club attended the sessions, in order to apply the same techniques.

“We will make sure that this initiative has a long lasting effect in the hands of Al Dhafra Football Club,” said Mr Al Neyadi.

“Our coaches worked with them and learned from their experience,” saidMr Al Hammadi.