x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Second home for Manchester City

A winter training camp and an annual friendly match in Abu Dhabi are part of an agreement between the club and the UAE.

ABU DHABI // The UAE will become the second home of Manchester City after an agreement yesterday between the country's football association and the big-spending English Premier League club.

City, owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, will play an annual friendly in Abu Dhabi. The first will take place at the Zayed Stadium against the UAE national team on Nov 12. On a visit to the capital yesterday, club officials also confirmed that the squad would attend an annual winter training camp at a new purpose-built facility at the Emirates Palace hotel. The visit gave the club a chance to parade its new signings Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz and Gareth Barry together for the first time. The trio, who collectively cost nearly £55 million (Dh330m) in transfer fees, signed autographs for children at a Summer in Abu Dhabi event.

Mark Hughes, the City manager, said everyone at the club felt "a huge debt of gratitude" to Abu Dhabi since the takeover by Sheikh Mansour last September. "We want to bring success to Manchester City and to the Manchester region, but also to Abu Dhabi. We are very grateful for what they have been able to do so far and what they have in mind," said Hughes. Yesterday's agreements come two months after the announcement of a shirt sponsorship deal between City and Etihad Airways, which will see the national airline's logo appearing on the club's shirts for the next three years.

Garry Cook, the club's chief executive, said the tie-up with the UAE football association confirmed the burgeoning relationship: "Our kinship with Abu Dhabi is well documented and while we are a big football club in the world of the Premier League and have a great history in English football, it is important for us to connect with other communities. "It makes a lot of sense for us to do it firstly in Abu Dhabi."

Training at the Emirates Palace would be a step up from the team's usual winter getaways, said Mr Cook. "Last year we went to Tenerife, found a facility, found a hotel, put some coats down and started playing. We are on a different level here, we wanted to find a consistent base." While the Nov 12 match coincides with a break for World Cup qualifying play-off matches and international friendly games, Mr Cook said the club would negotiate with national federations to release City players from friendlies to allow them to travel to Abu Dhabi. That means some of the club's biggest names could be playing against the UAE national team.

Other European or Premier League teams might be invited to attend the training camp with City in future years, said Mr Cook. Those clubs could feature in friendly matches in Abu Dhabi at the same time. Young players from City's academy will be able to use the Emirates Palace training facility, which is being built with a natural grass amphitheatre. It will be ready in time for the team's return in November and will act as a training venue for the Club World Cup competition, which takes place in the capital in December.

As well as increasing their presence in Abu Dhabi, City may also seek to identify young football talent in the region. Mr Cook said the club hoped to lead the way for other leading clubs looking for players from the Arab world. A future link-up with Al Jazira, the Abu Dhabi team also owned by Sheikh Mansour, is possible. "There are a lot of great things that they are doing and we are going to learn from each other and develop relationships," Mr Cook said.

Hughes said everyone at City was eager to repay the new owners' faith. "We are very aware of this opportunity and the position of trust we have been given, and it is important that we recognise that as a club and as individuals. We all realise the implications of our actions and how that reflects people's perceptions of Abu Dhabi. It makes us more determined to do well in future. "We always get a fantastic welcome when we come here and there is a huge interest here in Manchester City and what we are going to do."

Further signings for City are expected this summer, although Mr Cook said a bid for the Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor was the only one currently on the table. Hughes said he expected the club to improve on its best finish in the Premier League, eighth place, this year. "It is an exciting time. There is a different atmosphere surrounding the club these days and the players sense the anticipation."

Hughes joined the club in May last year, when it was still under the ownership of the deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Different owners had led to different expectations, he said. "What has changed is the focus. There was interest in the previous owner, but more on a personal level than what he was doing. "The difference now is the huge expectation. That expectation was a little difficult for some players to deal with. But we have had a year of that so they are used to it. It is not a burden, it stimulates you. Everyone is conscious of the excitement, the enthusiasm, the anticipation and we are looking forward to the challenge."

rhughes@thenational.ae