Online sales in past week treble the country's typical yearly order, though it may take months before local shops begin supplying jerseys.
Talks to bring City shirts to UAE
ABU DHABI // Talks are under way for Manchester City football shirts to go on sale in the capital for the first time following the takeover of the club by private investors led by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed. At present, there is no agreement between the club and Le Coq Sportif, the kit manufacturers, for City shirts to be retailed anywhere in the Middle East.
However the makers say they are hoping to exploit the takeover by selling shirts not only in Abu Dhabi but elsewhere in the region. The club sold three times as many shirts to UAE customers on the internet last week as it would on average in a full year. Sports shops are also prepared to start selling the shirts, although interest has so far been lukewarm. A spokesman for Le Coq Sportif in Paris said: "The contract between Manchester City and Le Coq Sportif was signed between ourselves and a licensed agent in the UK.
"As a result, there are no products available for sale anywhere in the Middle East at present. We are, however, studying the possibility of distributing these products in the Middle East as soon as possible." For now, not a single genuine or replica Manchester City shirt can be found in Abu Dhabi, despite the team sitting in third place in the Premiership, behind Liverpool and Chelsea. Any new-found City fans can instead buy the similar light blue shirts of Argentina and Olympique Marseille.
Mark Lynch, chairman of the Dubai Manchester City Supporters Club, said: "You look through sports shops and it is only the top four clubs' shirts and international shirts that are for sale. I get mine when I go home to England or get them posted over. "Obviously, that might all change now." Duncan Martin, Manchester City's retail controller, said: "We do ship to the Middle East, but only to supporters' organisations or to individuals.
"Last week, we sent 300 shirts to Abu Dhabi and we were able to get them out quickly through Etihad Airways. We usually sell about a hundred a year. "Once we have gathered the market intelligence, we can look at selling in the UAE, the rest of the Middle East and maybe even India. "We certainly have our plans ready, but the philosophy has always been for us not to get a quick win by selling a thousand shirts and then backing out, but to look at big plans, through community football, training and building links.
"It is not just about selling the product, but it is a case of developing the market and working with the new owners to see what their plans are." Yousef Younis, who works at the Aria boutique in Airport Road, said no one had ever asked to buy a Manchester City shirt, and they had never sold any of the distinctive blue tops. He was not even aware of the recent developments. "I don't see the news, so I did not know about Abu Dhabi buying them," he said. "We have Manchester United, Liverpool, Brazil, Arsenal, AC Milan - all the most popular ones.
"Manchester City are a good team, 100 per cent." Ibrahim Gomaa, an Egyptian sales assistant at MegaSport in Abu Dhabi Mall, said one man asked to buy a City shirt last week, but was left disappointed. "He came in two or three days after the club was taken over. But I think he was English and he was a Manchester City fan. It was the first time someone has asked for a Manchester City shirt but, inshallah, not the last."
Mr Gomaa said there was considerable Arab interest in the City deal, the first of its kind signed between an Arab group and a leading football team. "I read it in all the newspapers here, saw it on Al Jazeera, the local Abu Dhabi channel and on the Egyptian news too," he said. "All the media are talking about it. "It will be good for the Arab people to start supporting this team. It will be our team."
He said there was a strong chance the shop would start selling replica shirts if the demand rose. Juventus Sports in Madinat Zayed said it could have Manchester City shirts on sale within "two or three weeks" but StarSports, in the same centre, said it could be a matter of months as there were no import agreements in place with Le Coq Sportif. Anyone wishing to order City shirts in bulk will, however, have to be quick, Mr Martin said: "For organisations or retailers, shirts are forward-produced and now it is the last week to put in a big bulk order before Christmas.
"So if the order does not come in this week, you will not get shirts for quite a few months." firstname.lastname@example.org