x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

'When we bought City, I found my team'

Interest in the English Premier League has skyrocketed since Manchester City became Abu Dhabi's team.

ABU DHABI // For Faisal Al Balooshi, the love affair with Manchester City began when Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bought the club four years ago.

"From that moment on, I became a City fan," he explains. "I felt it was our team, our club. Even it is an English club, it became the team of the Emirates.

Like many local football fans, the 32-year-old Emirati had once preferred to watch the Spanish and Italian leagues and was a Barcelona fan. Back then, he says, he "didn't watch much English football at all".

He is not alone. Interest in the English game has skyrocketed since Manchester City became Abu Dhabi's team.

Khaled Al Jarman, 26, from Abu Dhabi, says he watched Premier League football before Sheikh Mansour bought the club, but that he does so with much more intensity now.

"I wasn't a big supporter of any team when I began watching," he says. "But when we bought City I found my team."

Exposure to the English game has also made him more appreciative of its merits: "The Premier is less predictable and the weaker teams can beat the top ones in any game, but in La Liga and the Italian leagues you pretty much know who is going to win."

Not all City fans are recent converts. Amro Al Suwaidi, 26, is one of a small but devoted band of Emirati fans who followed the team even before the Abu Dhabi connection.

"Suddenly, about two years ago you saw many more local City supporters and many more watching the League," he says.

Such is his devotion that Amro is now designing a sky-blue kandura. And the Abu Dhabi connection has changed his life on other ways. "Just last year I was offered a position in the Etihad Airways management programme. They being an official sponsor of my team was the push I needed to accept.

"I even want to buy a Jaguar now they are official sponsors," he adds.

Still, not all Emiratis root for Manchester's sky-blue side. Faisal's uncle, Ahmed Eisa, 27, has supported Manchester United since 1999, even attending matches at Old Trafford five times.

He is not about to change his allegiance just because his team have been dethroned.

"I only have one team and that is Man United," he insists. "It is impossible for me to support Man City."

Such is his devotion that he refused to sit in seats reserved for Manchester City fans when his brother took him to a game in London against Queens Park Rangers, the team City defeated tonight to win the title.

"A Saudi asked me what I was doing in the QPR section, I told him I had to leave my brother with the City fans because I am with Man U."